St. Cloud State head wrestling coach Steve Costanzo (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Steve Costanzo's resume speaks for itself.
His St. Cloud State wrestling teams have won four national championships in the past five years.
And the Huskies have finished either first or second at the NCAA Division II tournament in eight of the past nine years.
St. Cloud State has won its last 48 dual meets.
But that isn't Costanzo's ultimate goal as a head coach.
"For us, it's never about winning national championships. It's about performing," he said. "It's about the way we train and the lifestyle we lead. It's about being consistent on a daily basis. We have a special culture in our room. It's a good time to be a Husky."
It's a good time indeed.
St. Cloud State captured the NCAA Division II national title in Cleveland, Ohio (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
That consistency Costanzo's teams have developed paid dividends when the Huskies won the national team title on March 9 in Cleveland.
St. Cloud State won with a total team effort. The Huskies didn't have a champion, finishing with seven All-Americans.
Senior Vince Dietz was team's lone finalist, dropping a close bout in the 197-pound finals.
Vince Dietz was a two-time national finalist (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
"Vince was a two-time finalist," Costanzo said. "He was undefeated going into the final match of his career. Vince was super consistent his last two seasons. He was extremely disappointed with his finish. His goal was to win it. If anybody deserved to win it, it was him. His leadership was invaluable. He worked extremely hard. He was one of the last people to leave the room every day. That speaks volumes for who he is as a person."
St. Cloud State senior Brett Velasquez also made a huge impact during his career. He won a national title as a freshman before becoming a four-time All-American.
Velasquez placed fourth in his final national tournament at 125 pounds. He also earned academic honors each year in college and is headed to physical therapy school at the University of Iowa.
"I loved having Brett here," said Costanzo. "He provided great leadership on and off the mat. He is just a tremendous individual, spiritually and with his work ethic. His actions speak for themselves. He was a kid who always put his team ahead of himself. He really struggled with his weight the last two seasons. The sacrifices he made for the program were pretty impressive."
St. Cloud State fans cheer at the NCAAs in Cleveland, Ohio (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
The Huskies also had All-Americans in Jake Barzowski (third at 157 pounds), James Pleski (fourth at 149), Kolton Eischens (fourth at 174), Garrett Vos (sixth at 133) and Devin Fitzpatrick (sixth at 165).
"We had some guys battle back in the tournament," Costanzo said. "Nothing's ever perfect. Guys experience setbacks during the year. We're constantly going through adversity and have to bounce back strong. You try to find the next best thing if you lose, and that's third place. We had to pick it up and our team was really good at that. We had some great leadership.
"We've been blessed with great kids and great leadership. Brady Wilson has been coaching with me a long time and he's done a great job. We've had good success with our program, but we've also had our share of adversity and our teams have battled through it."
St. Cloud State coaches Brady Wilson, Travis Holt and Steve Costanzo coaching at NCAAs (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Winning at the Division II level has become even more challenging in Costanzo's 13 years at St. Cloud State. There are now more than 60 wrestling teams at the DII level.
"It's very competitive. Wheeling Jesuit really came on this year and kind of came out of nowhere to finish second at nationals," Costanzo said. "We were fortunate to qualify nine guys for nationals out of a strong regional. It's tough to get to the national tournament. I know there were a lot of good kids that didn't make it to Cleveland."
Costanzo has excelled with home-grown Minnesota talent, but the recruiting battles are fierce to land kids in a state that produces an abundance of top wrestlers.
"We've had a lot of very good Minnesota kids," he said. "We have had some good kids from Illinois and some other states come in as well. But obviously, it starts in Minnesota. The high school wrestling is very good in our state. It's so competitive recruiting-wise. You have the University of Minnesota in Division I plus you have North Dakota State and South Dakota State. There are some other Division II schools. And then you have (reigning NCAA Division III champion) Augsburg in our state."
The 47-year-old Costanzo just completed his 24th year of coaching. As a wrestler, he won a Nebraska state title for Bennington High School before becoming a three-time NCAA Division II All-American for Nebraska-Omaha.
He coached Dana College in Nebraska to an NAIA title before taking over the program at St. Cloud State. He has transformed a once-struggling wrestling program into a national powerhouse in Division II.
His St. Cloud State team will be one of the favorites to win it all again next season. The Huskies return five All-Americans.
Costanzo started his coaching career as an assistant to his college coach, Hall of Famer Mike Denney, at Nebraska-Omaha.
Denney just completed his 50th year of coaching. He's now at Maryville University in St. Louis after winning seven national titles at UNO.
"Coach Denney was an incredible mentor for me," Costanzo said. "He was one of the first people to congratulate me this year when we got our trophy at the national tournament. He's had a big impact on my life and career. His support means a lot."
Like Denney, Costanzo has found his dream job in coaching.
"I've been on a wrestling mat for 40 years, either as a competitor or a coach," Costanzo said. "It's just who I am. I really like working with kids and I like to see them mature and develop and reach their goals. That's the bottom line. For me, it's always been a calling to work with individuals in wrestling and other facets of their life. It's a lifestyle. I really have a passion for it. My favorite time of the day is when we're together as a team when we're practicing or competing. That's a really enjoyable time for me."
This story also appears in the April 12 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.