Apple Valley places wrestling tradition in Barlage’s hands

Former assistant becomes fourth head coach in program history

Josh Barlage understands what he’s getting into as Apple Valley High School’s new head wrestling coach because he helped the Eagles build their tradition and prestige.

In 10 years as an assistant at Apple Valley, he’s never been on an Eagles team that didn’t win a state title. Now that he’s in charge, he said he understands what it will take to keep them where they are.

“There have been great head coaches here before me, and I’ve tried to take a little bit from every one of them,” said Barlage, who was promoted a couple of weeks ago. “One thing all of them had in common is they didn’t talk much about results. The emphasis was on getting a little bit better every day – 1 percent better – and if we did that the results would take care of themselves.”

Barlage becomes the fourth head coach of an Apple Valley program that has won 25 state team championships, including the current streak of 12 consecutive Class 3A titles. Bill Demaray founded the program in 1976 and was head coach until 1995, then returned after a one-year break to serve as an assistant on Jim Jackson’s coaching staff. Jackson was head coach for 17 years before stepping down in 2012. Dalen Wasmund was the Eagles’ head coach the last five seasons, leading the team to the state championship each year.

Jackson, Wasmund and Barlage were assistant coaches at Apple Valley before becoming head coach. Although Barlage said he believes the pattern of keeping the head coaching job in-house is mostly coincidence, there are advantages to hiring a coach who knows the landscape. Overseeing the program’s summer activities is a massive undertaking; recently there were 150 students in grades K-12 attending a summer camp where clinicians included Penn State University head coach Cael Sanderson and one of his top understudies – current NCAA champion Mark Hall, a six-time Minnesota high school champion while at Apple Valley. Apple Valley also will have a number of wrestlers in the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior national championships beginning July 14 in Fargo, N.D.

Barlage, a special education teacher at Apple Valley High School, said he wanted to be a head coach someday, but not just anywhere. At this time, the Eagles’ job was the only one he would have considered, he said.

“I’d always known that I was interested in being head coach, but I wasn’t sure if things were going to line up,” he said. “When I heard that the job was open, I threw my hat in the ring.”

Barlage, a two-time Minnesota state tournament qualifier in high school, was an assistant coach at Lakeville North for three seasons before coming to Apple Valley. He was a member of three NCAA Division III national championship teams at Augsburg College.

At Apple Valley, he has had a hand in coaching 10 state championship teams and 45 individual state champions. He was Class 3A, Section 2 Assistant Coach of the Year in 2016-17.

Barlage said last week he is finalizing the coaching staff and their roles. When Wasmund stepped down in the spring, he left open the possibility of remaining with the program in another role. Barlage said he was open to that idea but had not yet discussed it with Wasmund.

Among wrestlers Barlage could guide in his first season as head coach are Gable Steveson, a three-time state champion, the last two at heavyweight; and 2017 state individual medalists Regan Schrempp, Adam Mickelson and Nate Larson.
Being the chief decision-maker and needing to delegate responsibility will be new challenges for Barlage. What he said will be constant is “people in the program are very driven to be successful. That hasn’t changed, and it’s not going to change.”