Tucked away in a cramped upstairs attic, the Des Lacs-Burlington wrestling team started its practice with a simple drill.
As the few grapplers in the room began the workout, which involved lifting their opponent and taking him to the ground, Justin Thomas and Cole Peterson locked eyes and proceeded with the drill.
At first the undersized Peterson, wrestling at 120 pounds this season, failed to hold his own with the 132-pound Thomas. But as the practice wore on, Peterson eventually took control and took Thomas to the ground. It's a constant struggle to assert dominance between the juniors who happen to be the squad's two top grapplers.
Des Lacs-Burlington junior Justin Thomas throws down classmate Cole Peterson during a practice Wednesday at Des Lacs-Burlington High School.
"Me and Cole get into it in practice where we hurt each other 'cause we both just get mad, want to get better, it gets tough sometimes," Thomas said.
"Yesterday, Cole was probably four feet off the mat."
Peterson is a three-time Region 3 champion. Thomas has won the region and placed sixth and fourth at state, respectively, the last two seasons. Each are ranked No. 1 by the region's coaches. And each finds competitive challenges outside the realm of wrestling.
Thomas is a starting cornerback on the Laker football team. On the diamond, he's the team'ss catcher, taking foul balls to the face routinely and wearing heavy catching equipment during the high school season and into the heat of American Legion ball. He said the pain baseball brings, mainly cuts on the knees, is nothing compared to the nicks and bruises associated with wrestling.
"Wrestling's tough all year," Thomas said. "I always feel like there's something wrong. ... Ankles hurting, shoulders hurting, cutting weights is never fun."
Peterson partakes in the rodeo, traveling around the state during the summer, spring and fall both as a team roper and a calf roper. The latter event involves chasing a calf and roping it around the neck before leaping off of a horse and tying three legs together.
But Peterson, who is 14-2 this season, said the quick nature of rodeo events makes it a bit easier on the body than wrestling.
"You just go for six minutes straight, hard the whole time," Peterson said. "Calf roping, it's hard in parts where you just get a little banged up. I'd have to say wrestling's more tough."
The two made the transition to co-captains as sophomores last season. Both Peterson and Thomas consider themselves vocal leaders, but it's a role that took some getting used to.
"The year before, it felt like we were still little kids, just doing whatever we were told," Peterson said. "We get thrown into the captain position. You have to be a leader to some of the littler kids coming up."
The goal is to get as far at the state tournament as possible. Peterson said he could see himself finishing fifth while Thomas (11-5), who was seeded third last year entering the state meet, said his expecation is to "win it."
"They both have hard-working attitudes and they want to achieve success," fourth-year head coach Aaron Huck said. "They know how to wrestle."