Coach Larsen accepts job in Iowa


Larsen (far right) was 84-20 in six years as Sparta’s head coach.

Citing an opportunity to be closer to family, Spartan head wrestling coach Jake Larsen is expected to sign a contract with Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, IA.  The move comes after seven years with the program including six as head coach.

Larsen’s six years as head coach at Sparta High School were among the greatest stretches in program history from both a team and individual standpoint.  His 84-20 record as head coach tied Lyle Blum’s record for program wins by a coach in two less years and with 27 fewer losses.  Over those six years, Larsen’s squads won three MVC championships, were consistently ranked in the top ten and saw 27 individual state tournament berths.  In 2012 and 2014, Larsen was named MVC coach of the year.

In January of 2012, Larsen was highlighted by the La Crosse Tribune’s Todd Sommerfeldt a program where participation numbers are booming when many other teams had a hard time keeping kids on the mat.  Sommerfeldt quoted Larsen as saying they accomplished this by keeping focused on the kids.

Many high school wrestling programs are struggling. The number of co-operative teams in the state grows each season.

But not one level in Sparta is, and that means a lot to Larsen, the high school coach.

While most communities are struggling to keep varsity lineups filled, Sparta is one – Holmen is another – that is flourishing, and that has led to plenty of recent success.

“Our constant focus is to keep kids,” Larsen said after his Spartans beat Aquinas 69-6 last week for his 50th dual victory. “We work really hard to keep kids out for the sport, keep it fun and keep the schedules filled for them.”

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Larsen’s impact on the program may have never been more evident than this past season.  Sparta rolled out a lineup that was routinely without wrestlers at two weights and sometimes three.  Despite this, Larsen’s team compiled a 13-4 record, a surprising MVC championship and came within one match of going to team sectional.  All year long, Sparta’s wrestlers were healthy, rested and won matches when they needed to and a big part of that was Larsen’s preparation of the team for the season’s most important matches.

As mentioned in an earlier post on Spartanwrestling,com, Mike Montgomery had a lot to say about Larsen’s contribution to this year’s team.  Much of what Montgomery said can be applied to Larsen’s entire time as head coach at Sparta.

Coach Larsen has done a great job of putting and keeping a varsity lineup together this season despite the challenges of not having the upper weights to round out his line-up. The ability to win close matches this season has been the result of winning the toss-up matches and having our wrestlers prepared to compete when the pressure was on. The Holmen match is probably a great example of winning when the odds were against us. Coach Larsen has stuck with a plan and not deviated from it as far as conditioning and training for the season. The goal is always to be at your best and freshest at the end of the season and hopefully that is where the Spartans are at. With only three seniors on the team it could be considered a rebuilding year but those seniors have provided good leadership and the rapid improvement of a talented freshman group has been a pleasant surprise.

With all the talent in the freshman and sophomore classes it becomes equally important to maintain their level of improvement and development throughout the season. Coach Larsen brought in Coach Zurfluh to help with this transition and it has paid great dividends.  Coach Zurfluh has provided a nurturing, positive, and encouraging presence to the young wrestlers as they await their opportunity in the upcoming years. The sign of a strong and lasting program are high levels of participation and competition among the wrestlers for varsity positions. A state championship team needs to be 2 or 3 deep at every weight class. It is a very long and demanding season and anything can happen along the way. When you have quality wrestlers to fall back on, minor injuries, illnesses or other setbacks won’t impact the overall strength of the team as much.
So where does the program go next and what type of coach should the program look to bring in?  We’ll examine that and more later this week.  Again, thanks to Coach Larsen for everything you have done for the program.  All the best in your move to Iowa.
Enjoy a few photos of Larsen during his six years as head coach at Sparta…
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