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Pete's Point: Loss started Road Crew's run

The Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus Road Crew wrestling team found out that sometimes you need to bottom out before you get better.

Travis Hoffarth was the Road Crew’s first-year head coach four years ago. The Road Crew finished with just seven wins in that 2010-11 season, which ended with a loss to 10th seeded Cass Lake-Bena in the first round of the section team tournament.

“That first-round loss is the fuel that started the fire, and started this journey,” Hoffarth said. “We had a long chat as a team after that loss. We had a good core of freshmen, and I told them that if they stuck together, and committed to this, we could be in a position to win a section title.”

The message stuck with the team. The Road Crew improved to 20-3 overall the next season, which ended with a close loss to Perham in the section final. The Road Crew then had an admirable 15-4 record last year, even though they were upset by Detroit Lakes in the section semifinals.

“Last year, we thought we had a good chance and came up flat in the semifinals,” Hoffarth said. “This year, our kids had experience, and you could tell that they were hungry. Our kids knew we had what it took if they stuck with it, and this was our final run with this group of seniors.”

And it was an admirable run as the Road Crew compiled an 18-4 record this winter, and peaked with a Section 8AA title on Saturday, Feb. 15, after victories over Sauk Centre, Perham and Detroit Lakes.

“It was our time to put the flag at the top of the mountain,” Hoffarth said of his team’s first section title. “You could tell from the look in their eyes that our kids wanted this. It was a proud moment as a coach to watch them believe in a plan and reach their goal.”

And it was a special celebration since the Road Crew will be making its first trip to state for the Class AA quarterfinals against Foley at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“Eight years ago was my first year as an assistant coach (for the Road Crew), and we lost to Perham in the section final,” Hoffarth said. “Then two years ago we lost a close final to Perham. So beating them, possibly for the first time ever, was big in the semifinal. I guess the third time was the charm.”

It was also nice revenge to beat the Lakers in the championship, after losing to Detroit Lakes two years ago in the postseason and last month during the regular season.

“It’s about peaking in the playoffs,” Hoffarth said of Saturday’s title. “We finally had our full lineup for the first time all year. We knew we would be competitive once our kids were all healthy.”

Two wrestlers who returned were senior Jace Loge, who has recovered from hip surgery, and Nate Adkins, who suffered two concussions during the football season.

“We didn’t know if Jace would be back, but 17-year-olds recover quicker than older people,” Hoffarth said. “And Nate is doing well, and he was able to get clearance to wrestle.”

Top Road Crew wrestling records this season include: Ozzie Miller 29-7, Nick Gravdahl 29-6, Anthony Philipson 27-2, Justin Mackenthun 26-3, Jared Adkins 23-6, Triston Rubner 17-4 and Dillon Nichols 17-10.

The Road Crew team was combined for the 1990-91 season with Dave Guenther serving as coach. The Pine River High School wrestling team started in 1964 with Marvin Vincent and Art Miller as co-coaches while Pequot Lakes started wrestling in 1972 with Steve Heslop as coach.

“We’ve waited a long time to make it to state in wrestling,” Hoffarth said. “Pequot Lakes has had a bunch of teams go to state in recent years, but it has been nine years since the Pine River-Backus’ volleyball team went to state, and 14 years since a (PR-B) boys’ team (basketball) made it to state.

“So this community has been hungry. Maybe that’s why we had the loudest crowd at the section tournament. And then when we came back to town on Saturday about 12:30 at night, we had a police and fire truck escort that met us and brought us to the school. We had more than 50 people waiting for us at the school gym. That proves that this is a special time for the program and the community.”

The Road Crew compete in the section individual tournament on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, in Perham.