Jim Makovsky is in his 26th season as Minnesota State's head wrestling coach (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Jim Makovsky's Minnesota State wrestling program remains one of the best at the NCAA Division II level.
His Maverick teams have finished in the top 10 in the country 17 times, including a pair of NCAA runner-up team finishes. He's coached 10 national champions and 89 All-Americans.
Makovsky, 52, a member of the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, has started his 26th season in Mankato with another strong team.
The Mavericks are ranked sixth nationally in Division II.
Minnesota State is led by senior George Farmah, a returning NCAA runner-up who is ranked No. 1 at 133 pounds. Junior Zach Johnston is ranked fourth at 174 and senior Seth Elwood is fifth at 165. Sophomore Kyle Rathman is ranked 11th at 149 pounds.
InterMat caught up with Makovsky while he was out on the recruiting trail recently.
How is your team progressing during the first few weeks of competition?
Makovsky: We're progressing pretty well. We have a good group of young guys who bring a lot of energy to our team. We're excited about the group that we have. We have some good depth. We had an opportunity to have a great season last year, but we had a few guys come up short of qualifying for the national tournament. We were in a real tough regional last year and we are again this season.
We did suffer a significant setback early this season. We lost our 197-pounder, Matt Blome, to a season-ending injury. He was an All-American two seasons ago and he was a match away from placing last year. Matt will have more two seasons left for us after this season. Losing Matt definitely hurt us. We have some guys we're looking at to step in there at 197, but we're still 3.5 months away from the national tournament. We still have some time before our starting lineup is settled.
Tell me a little bit about George Farmah and what he brings to your lineup?
Makovsky: George Farmah is one of the quickest guys I've ever had. He could play tennis by himself, that's how fast he is. He is a funny guy who helps keep the team loose. He brings a little flavor to the team. He's a tough wrestler, who is very tough on top. He can score a lot of points when he opens up and goes. We're looking for big things out of George this season. He is a senior who transferred here from Iowa Lakes Community College. He took third at junior college nationals and he had good credentials coming in here. He is going to get his degree in law enforcement. It's a great story and we're really proud of George.
How important have the contributions of returning All-Americans Zach Johnston and Seth Elwood been to your team?
Makovsky: Having those two guys back-to-back in our lineup is big for us. Zach is coming off a very good season. He's really progressed for us and taken it to the next level. Seth was unseeded going into regionals last year and he had a great tournament. He won a regional title and he was named outstanding wrestler. Seth really came on for us late in the year. They are both pretty tough kids. We are excited to have them back in our lineup.
What are your thoughts on the new qualifying format for the Division II national tournament?
Makovsky: I'm not a big fan of it. They added 20 wrestlers overall to the total number of national qualifiers and that's good, but it's still going to be extremely difficult for us to qualify. The top three guys in each weight class qualify from each region now. We added two regions in Division II this year and now we have six regions. Three of the top six teams in the country are in our region with us, top-ranked St. Cloud State and No. 5 Upper Iowa. Plus, we have Wisconsin-Parkside, who is very good, in our region. It's going to be very tough in our region just to qualify for nationals. I thought they could have kept the regions the same and stayed with four regions. They could've taken the top four finishers in each weight class from each region. Then you could look at all of the fifth-place finishers and pick from them based on the season they had to determine the final 20 qualifiers. I wish we could've done that. I obviously am in favor of having more wrestlers qualify for nationals, but I don't like the way they did it. But it is what it is. It's exciting to have great competition, but you want it to be as fair as possible. You want representation at nationals from different parts of the country, but you also want the best kids competing at the national tournament.
How do you see the national team race shaping up this season?
Makovsky: We are on the outside looking in. It looks like St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Kearney and Notre Dame are up there, and then Upper Iowa is right there as well. That's what we are shooting for, to win a national title. We obviously want to get back up there and win a team trophy. The level of competition in Division II is the best it's ever been. It's really, really good. We have a lot of programs that are committed to wrestling. The depth at this level is the best I've seen with 60 teams in DII now. The overall quality at this level is excellent.
What impact has Ty Eustice made as an assistant coach for your team?
Makovsky: Ty had coached with me before from 2006-08, and I'm really happy to have him back on my staff. It's like having another head coach on our staff. I've had a good run of assistant coaches who have gone on to become head coaches. Ty wrestled for the University Iowa, and he brings that passion and intensity. He's all in with the guys. He brings a vibe that relates well to the athletes. I was excited to get him back. He can still roll around with the guys and wrestle with them. He was an NCAA runner-up for Iowa. Ty just gets it and he know what it takes to excel. He understands what goes into running a successful program. He was a good hire, that's for sure. He's made a big impact here.
What are your thoughts on starting your 26th year at Mankato?
Makovsky: I feel really good. I'm 52 years old, but I feel like I'm a lot younger. At least that's what I tell people. Somebody asked me recently, 'What keeps you going?' It's really simple -- I love the kids on my team and I love working with them. That part hasn't changed one bit. Seeing the light come on in their head, and seeing them grow and develop as wrestlers and people is really gratifying for me. When I talk to employers out there who are looking to hire people, they love to hire wrestlers. They love the work ethic they gain from being involved in wrestling. Wrestlers are loyal and take a lot of pride in what they do. If you wrestled in college, and stuck it out even if you weren't a starter, you graduated with a lot thicker skin than you came in with. You get knocked down and you have to get up again a lot in wrestling. You learn so many life lessons from the sport. You have that fortitude and persistence. A college wrestling room is a tough environment -- there is nowhere to hide. If you can survive in there, you can survive just about anywhere. If you've wrestled, you are resilient and you can handle just about any adversity that comes your way. It's such a great sport in that respect.
What do you like about being a part of the Minnesota State community?
Makovsky: First of all, it's a great place to work. The school has really upped its profile in the last 10 years. And the community of Mankato is really supportive of the school, which is really important. Mankato is a great place to live. The school has the flavor and appeal of a Division I school. It's an easy sell when you are recruiting young men to come here. The school has really grown and evolved in recent years. Our athletes receive a lot of support. It's a strong academic school with a lot of different areas and fields that they can study. The school has a good blend of kids from the Twin Cities and kids from smaller schools and towns. I really like what I do and I'm very fortunate to work at a great school like Minnesota State. It's just an enjoyable place to be.
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.
This story also appears in the Dec. 7 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.