College Wrestling: Rager builds powerhouse at RCTC
Randy Rager is a winner.
The Pequot Lakes graduate and head wrestling coach at Rochester Community and Technical College is coming off a season in which he won his third NJCAA Division III National Championship in seven years.
“We’ve won three national titles and won our conference now eight straight years,” Rager said.
The 2020 team produced six All-American wrestlers and five Academic All-Americans.
Along with the three national titles, Rager has been NJCAA non-scholarship coach of the year three times and MCAC coach of the year eight times.
He said the coach of the year award doesn't mean as much to him as the Man of Year award he won in 2018.
“That one is nice because it is actually voted on by the coaches in the coaches association,” Rager said of the Man of the Year award. “It’s recognition for going above and beyond in the sport of wrestling. That one, in my eyes, is the most prestigious one.”
Rager started wrestling when he was 6 years old. When he was in seventh grade, Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus combined wrestling programs to become the Road Crew.
He remembers the meeting when they named it Road Crew.
“I want to say we were in the cafeteria at Pine River trying to figure out what the name was going to be and what the colors were going to be and all that,” Rager said.
He looks back at his time with the Road Crew fondly.
“We had a good team,” Rager said. “Wrestling up in that area was a lot different back then. There were not that many options for high school kids to go into. Everyone was a three sport athlete back then. Some of the toughest guys I wrestled were in that wrestling room. It helped shape me as a wrestler and as a coach.”
When he graduated high school in 1994, he finished with 154 wins, most in program history. It’s a record that still stands for now.
“I think that’s probably going to get broken,” Rager said. “There’s a kid there now that’s pretty good.”
That kid is Conner Tulenchik, who is at 128 wins total and is coming off a second place in state individuals as a sophomore. He’s on pace to break Rager’s wins record.
Rager attended college at the University of Minnesota-Morris and notched 162 wins, making him the all-time winnest Division II wrestler.
Rager is now a member of the Pequot Lakes and Minnesota Morris hall of fame.
After being a grad assistant at St. Cloud State, he became the head coach at RCTC in 2005.
“When I first started I was relatively young,” Rager said. “I wasn’t necessarily recruiting the best people. I tried to recruit good wrestlers, but what really turned around for our program is when we looked at our philosophy for our program and our mission of what we want to do. We want to bring in good people.”
Rager still makes it back to Pequot Lakes every summer. His dad owns a seasonal resort RV park on Loon Lake.
“I love making it back to that area,” Rager said. “Still have some friends from around there.”
He feels the support of his family. His mom has attended every national tournament he has coached in.
“She’s been to the last 15 I’ve been coaching in,” Rager said. “Even though I am no longer competing as an athlete she is very supportive. That support is always huge to have. It’s something we try to do with our athletes and get to know their family.”
Despite the accolades, Rager doesn’t like the spotlight.
“Wrestling to me has always been the sport where you go out and do your business,” Rager said. “You get done and you don’t expect recognition for it. It’s like you’re out doing hard work whether you are a farmer plowing in the field or you are in the classroom teaching. It’s nice to have recognition, but you don’t expect it.”
Rager’s youngest son is now 6 years old and is getting interested in wrestling. It has made Rager get involved with the youth program in Stewartville.
“Obviously, my competing days are done, but coaching has come full circle where I am coaching my boy,” Rager said. “It teaches a lot of lessons in life. Like discipline and perseverance and goal setting and those are things to be successful and now I am doing that with my boy.”