Alumnus takes helm of wrestling program

New Forest Lake wrestling head coach Joe Kunshier poses next to photos he had placed of past Ranger wrestlers in the high school wrestling room.
New Forest Lake wrestling head coach Joe Kunshier poses next to photos he had placed of past Ranger wrestlers in the high school wrestling room. Photo by Kat Ladwig


A new day has dawned for the Forest Lake wrestling program as it prepares for the winter season under new head coach Joe Kunshier.

Following the resignation of former head coach Billy Pierce due to personal reasons this spring, Kunshier was offered the position the same day he interviewed in May. Forest Lake High School Activities Director Joel Olson said the decision to hire Kunshier, which was approved by Olson, Principal Steve Massey and two Ranger wrestling parents, was a no-brainer.

“He has all the tools needed to bring the program back to where it was — there’s a strong history of wrestling in Forest Lake,” Olson said. “We were looking for great skills in coaching, and a big thing was the ability to build relationships with kids, parents and other coaches. He’s got that.”

A wrestling background

Kunshier’s roots run deep both in Forest Lake and in wrestling. The 1998 Ranger graduate began wrestling in first grade, working his way toward becoming a two-year captain, five-time all-conference honoree and two-time state entrant. In 1997 as a junior, Kunshier placed second at the state tournament at 160 pounds. The next season he took third place at 152 pounds, where he dropped a weight class at the chance of wrestling a longtime friend and rival, Luke Becker, of Cambridge. It’s a decision he admits regretting at times, but it also allows him to relate to the tough decisions his own wrestlers will face in terms of weight classes. The former Ranger posted a high school record of 122-49, which makes him the ninth-winningest wrestler in Ranger history.

Following high school, Kunshier competed at Augsburg from 2000-2004 where he was a part of three Division III national championship teams, minus one season where injury kept him off the mat. Even while in college, Kunshier engaged himself with the wrestling program back home. He coached the Forest Lake youth club until becoming an official assistant coach with the varsity squad in 2003.

“I was raised in this community and am a product of the Forest Lake schools and wresting program,” Kunshier said. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Personal life

Kunshier started working at FLHS in December 2006 as a health and physical education teacher at the high school, a position he still holds. The wrestling guru also completed his master’s degree in educational leadership and is hoping to get his administrative license in the near future.

Kunshier also mentioned his wife, Gretchen, and 3-year-old daughter, Maija, as big supporters of his new role in the Forest Lake wrestling program.

Goals for Ranger wrestling

The new head coach’s ultimate goal is to bring another state championship to Forest Lake. To do that, Kunshier is relying on both past and new coaches and athletes ranging from the youth program up to high school.

One addition is the former state championship coach from 1993 and Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, Bob Dettmer, who signed on to assist Kunshier on varsity for the 2013-14 season.

Ranger alumnus, former state champion and St. Cloud State wrestler Luke Munkelwitz earned his first full-time position with the varsity this season, while Brent Kolbow, a 2008 Forest Lake graduate, captain and two-time state entrant, signed on for his first year as an assistant coach. Kolbow is replacing Tony Harris, who is taking a one-year leave from coaching for hip replacement surgery. Ben Dahmes also returns for his fifth season on staff as the freshmen coach.

Kunshier was quick to mention the importance of Mark Smith and Rich Elliot’s involvement at the junior high level as well as the coaches in Ranger youth wrestling: Tim Cardinal, Corey Nelson, Andy Kolbow and John Adams. Most of the coaches have the past experience of competing for Forest Lake that Kunshier is looking for or have a rich knowledge of wrestling to bring to the table.

“Forest Lake has such a rich tradition; raising alumni involvement will only improve our mission,” Kunshier said. “The ability to harness everything this community has to offer is a large part of what my goals are shaped around.”

While the troupe of experienced coaches was a goal for Kunshier, he said the team belongs to the wrestlers.

“This is their team, they have ownership of it,” Kunshier said. “They need to stay a tight group that feeds off each other and realizes this really is their team — they are in control of their destiny.”