Former Panther was four-time All-American, national champion
By JIM LUTGENS
For years, Matt Petsinger was an automatic win for the NRHEG wrestling team.
A varsity member for six seasons, he finished his high school career with a remarkable record of 179-30 with 131 falls, three state tournament appearances and two runner-up finishes at state. A fierce competitor, Petsinger was also a Junior National Greco-Roman runner-up.
The Minnesota Gophers, however, never called.
It left a bit of a chip on Petsinger’s shoulder, but four years later he was redeemed with the Division II national championship at 157 pounds, completing a remarkable run of four consecutive All-American performances at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
On Oct. 9, he entered MSU athletics immortality, being inducted into the college’s sports hall of fame.
Petsinger, reached by phone at his home in Fort Dodge, Iowa, laughed when asked if the honor is something he expected.
“The humble person would say it was a surprise,” he said. “The non-humble person would say that, in time, they knew they would get in.”
Jim Makowsky, his coach at MSU, had told him it was only a matter of time before he was named to the hall of fame. Athletes are eligible 10 years after graduating, which Petsinger did in 2002.
Petsinger was pleased to have Makowsky, former NRHEG coach Paul Cyr and his Greco-Roman coach, Ed Kane, at the induction ceremony.
“Those guys know each other, but it was the first time they were together at the same time,” said Petsinger. “For me, that was a real treat.”
Of the approximately 160 members of the MSU Hall of Fame, Petsinger is just the 15th wrestler and the first since 2009.
In high school, unfortunately, Petsinger may be best remembered by what he didn’t do: win a state championship. He finished second as a sophomore, second as a junior and sixth as a senior in the state tournament.
The state championship bout in his junior year – a double-overtime loss to future Minnesota Gopher Brad Pike – is considered one of the most memorable matches in state tournament history, though Petsinger was more disappointed with his senior season.
“I went to college figuring I was going to have to prove myself,” he said.
And he did.
Petsinger finished his MSU career 120-26, fourth on the school’s career win list, with a school-record 84 pins. He finished third in the national tournament three times before winning it as a senior. He’s one of only eight MSU wrestlers to earn NCAA All-American recognition four times. He was named MSU’s Senior Male Athlete of the Year for 2000-01. He was also a two-time academic All-American.
And, along the way, Petsinger got revenge for that painful loss to Pike. It happened in his freshman year, when Minnesota and Minnesota State traveled to Iowa State for a double-dual.
“Dave Maldonado from Iowa State just trounced Pike,” said Petsinger. “I wanted to show them I’m better than Pike. I had seen Maldonado on Iowa Public (Television) the year before. I threw him early and I thought to myself, ‘You can’t do that again. This is going to be a close match.’ The next thing I knew, I just launched him in a headlock.”
In only his fifth collegiate match, Petsinger pinned Maldonado — rated No. 5 in the nation — in only 1:57.
“I thought, ‘There, I just showed the Gophers I’m a better wrestler than Pike,’” said Petsinger.
He proved his toughness on the mat with an aggressive, relentless style that resulted in so many pins. He also wrestled with injury, putting off shoulder surgery until after his senior season.
After college Petsinger lived in Waseca, worked at Brown Printing and helped coach the NRHEG wrestling team before meeting his wife, Becky, and moving to Oscaloosa, Iowa four years ago for her job. That’s also why they moved to Fort Dodge. They have a 10 ½ month-old son, Michael. He works as plant manager at Precision Tank & Equipment in Fort Dodge, a business that makes fiberglass and stainless steel tanks for liquid fertilizer.
Petsinger has been involved with wrestling the whole time, helping coach the Humboldt, Iowa team before recently being named the head coach at St. Edmond High School in Fort Dodge.
“We’re going to have a small squad this year, but I’m looking forward to working with the kids and getting the program built back up,” he said.
Petsinger enjoyed Hall of Fame weekend at MSU, which included his induction and being introduced at halftime of the Saturday football game.
“It’s a real honor to be part of something like that,” he said. “Winning a national title is one thing, but being recognized like this is something else. I am honored.”
Petsinger thanks everyone who helped make this possible — his parents, family members, coaches, practice partners, fans, the list goes on.
“An honor like this is not something that happens overnight,” he said. “It takes many miles, many sleepless nights, a lot of time and effort on the part of everyone involved.”
But the bottom line is the wrestler.
To what does Petsinger attribute his success?
He had to think about it.
“Probably a never-give-up attitude,” he said. “That was probably the biggest thing, just wanting it more. My college coach always liked to say that I’m the kid with the toy with the wooden shapes, and I was the one who took the square block and made it go in the circle hole, one way or another. Some of it is just bullheadedness.”
Now he hopes to start someone on the same path.
“I’m glad to be coaching,” he said. “Hopefully, one of the guys I coach can someday get into a hall of fame. That would be a great accomplishment.”
Make that another great accomplishment.