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Pete Rogers, the architect of the Lakeland College wrestling program's climb into the national spotlight, resigned as the Muskies' head coach on Monday. He has been named assistant wrestling coach at Purdue University.
In his nine seasons as head coach, Rogers took a program that struggled to field a complete roster to national rankings in each of his last three seasons and back-to-back team finishes in the top 30 at the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
"I started right out of college and I knew how to wrestle, but I didn't necessarily know how to coach," said Rogers, who wrestled collegiately at Ohio State University. "There was a lot of trial and error those first few years. Going from the worst it could be to finishing in the top 30 in the nation and being consistently ranked nationally has been a great experience.
"I can think of so many guys who stuck around and bought into what we were trying to do here, especially in those early years when it would have been easy to transfer. We had some people who didn't have the best high school careers come in and leave better wrestlers and better people."
Lakeland athletic director Jane Bouche said a search for Rogers' successor will begin immediately.
"We are obviously sorry to see Pete leaving, but we're thrilled for him as he takes the next step in his career," Bouche said. "Pete leaves behind a great wrestling program, and I'm confident we will attract quality coaching candidates."
Last season, Rogers guided the Muskies to a 26th-place finish at the NCAA Division III National Championships, and senior Adam Sutter competed at nationals for the second straight year. Sutter became Lakeland's second-ever All-American after placing third at the national tournament, and the Muskies captured their third consecutive Northern Wrestling Association Tournament title.
Lakeland's breakthrough season was 2007-08 when Rogers guided the Muskies to a 13-5-1 dual record, including a 5-0 record against teams from the talented Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The team also won the NWA title, earned its first national ranking in school history and sent just the second national qualifier in Lakeland history to nationals, Paul Hartt.
Lakeland placed 21st at nationals in 2008-09, and sent two wrestlers - Sutter and Hartt - to nationals."There is a lot more I wanted to do at Lakeland," Rogers said. "It's hard to leave these guys behind because I know they're going to do some great things. But with the tradition of a program like Purdue, opportunities like this don't come along very often."
Lakeland's program returns a solid lineup and a standout recruiting class that Rogers labeled the best in his nine seasons. Returnees include senior Isaac Roberson, juniors Rob Forgette, Rob Frias and Jake Montie and sophomores Ryan Renon and Chris Weber. Roberson, Frias, Montie and Renon all won WNA titles last winter. "They've taken it upon themselves to make this team a family," Rogers said. "They got everyone together these first few days of school and talked about what needs to happen for this season. It's been neat to see them take on that role."
At the end of this season, Lakeland will host an NCAA Division III Wrestling Regional, another indicator of the program's rise to success.
At Purdue, Rogers will have a chance to work with his two nephews, Patrick and AJ Kissel, both members of the Purdue wrestling team. Like their uncle, they both won multiple state titles wrestling at Oostburg High School. Rogers was a three-time state champion at Oostburg with an incredible 145-1 record.
He will also be working under Purdue head coach Scott Hinkel, who coached Rogers in camp when he was in middle school, recruited him out of high school and worked for Rogers' own summer wrestling camp.
Rogers had a solid career at Ohio State, finishing with an 80-63 record, including a 20-4 campaign his senior season when he placed third in the Big Ten and advanced to the NCAA Championships for the second time in his career. Rogers was voted OSU's Most Dedicated Wrestler and a team captain for the 1999-2000 season and Most Pins in 1998-99.
Prior to Lakeland, Rogers worked as an assistant wrestling coach at UW-Oshkosh. He has a bachelor's degree from OSU in sport and leisure studies and a master of education from Lakeland.