Northwestern Wrestling Dahls

From left, Northwestern wrestling head coach Rik Dahl with his three sons on the team, Matthew Dahl, Elijah Dahl and Joshua Dahl.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

ORANGE CITY, Iowa | Wrestling is a family sport.

That fact is staring back at Northwestern College head wrestling coach Rik Dahl every day he steps into the Red Raiders new wrestling room. It has been that way since Rik's oldest son, Elijah, now a senior, began wrestling for his father.

There had to be a certain amount of pride for Rik, who has been connected to the sport from a young age, to coach his son, but that is only going to grow this season as he will now have three sons on the team. Josh, a sophomore who was in the room last year, and Matthew, a freshman, are now wrestling at Northwestern under their father's tutelage.

"My boys it has always been a part of them, it is kind of the family business," said Rik, now in his 10th season leading the Red Raiders. "They grew up with singlets, shoes and headgear and they knew how to warm up, they knew how to roll around."

Rik said coaching his sons is harder than he thought it was going to be, but at the same time it is clearly an opportunity and experience he has had in the back of his mind for a while.

"I would be lying to you if I wasn't excited about it when Matt was born," he said. "You start calculating to see ... the chance to coach them all has been a dream, for sure. For me to go to practice and every time I look around I see a Dahl kid that's exciting for me as a dad."

Rik began wrestling at the age of 6 in Fairmont, Minnesota when his father decided to take him to a wrestling club. It wasn't what a young Rik expected at first, but it has been a staple of his life since.

"I thought Hulk Hogan, Jake the Snake kind of stuff and so (Rik and his brother) were like 'heck yeah we want to do that,'" he said. "We went out there and it was very different from what we thought, but my brother and I wrestled and we were kind of good at it I guess."

Rik would wrestle at Roland-Story -- where he would become a state placer -- when his family moved to Iowa before wrestling collegiately at Northwestern College. Dahl would become an All-American for the Red Raiders in 1997 and take lessons he learned that he still applies today.

Siblings in the same wrestling room is nothing new, especially at Northwestern where there were three brothers wrestling for the Red Raiders just last year in Randy, Nick and Andrew Null.

It is a season that will be a significant one for the brothers.

"I think back to high school and how we pushed each other, and it was really cool to use what dad taught us growing up," Josh said.

"My brothers, I love them. We are always hanging out and doing stuff together, so to be doing something that we all three love with someone we love is very special," Elijah said.

Being surrounded by the sport whether it was watching their father or attending practices when they were young while he was coaching, it is little surprise they have made wrestling their sport of choice. Just where they decided to continue to wrestle after all three graduated from MOC-Floyd Valley in Orange City was anything but a sure thing.

"We told (Elijah) we didn't want him to come to Northwestern," said Rik. "We didn't want him to just come so we told him to pray about it and go where God is leading you. We went on a couple of visits where he and I went out to Messiah (College) in Pennsylvania and I thought he was going to Messiah to be honest with you.

"I actually heard about (his college decision) in an article that a guy in Des Moines wrote where he said he was going to go wrestle for my dad. That was the first I had heard of it because I try not to put a lot of pressure on him."

Elijah's first semester on the team was not easy for father or son as wrestling goes deep for the pair with Rik wrestling in his final national tournament with his oldest son watching from the stands.

"When he first came to college here I would talk to him like I would any of these guys, but he would take it differently, it was personal," said Rik, who noted all of his sons feel the pressure of being the coach's kid on the team. "I didn't realize that at first so that first semester with him at Northwestern was hard."

"During practice he would stand next to my partner and I and just critique me the whole time, and being a perfectionist getting critiqued every time was just frustrating," Elijah said. "It turned into a lot of yelling and we had a conversation of whether I was going to quit or not and it got really, really dirty and bitter pretty quickly.

"We came to an agreement that he didn't coach me for two to three weeks and that created a lot of space, and at the same time it made me realize my dad is someone who kind of created my wrestling style, knows me the best wrestling wise. Then I was able to approach him and ask questions and that created a tight bond between us."

Rik said he doesn't talk wrestling with Elijah at home and they do not breakdown film together, leaving that to other coaches on his staff. However, the approach with each son is different depending on what works best for them.

Elijah, a fifth-place finisher at state for the Dutch as a senior who is cutting down to 141 for his final season, is described as a perfectionist by his father. However, he has never defined himself by the sport actually taking up track in high school to experience something different. It ended up being a sport of enjoyment for both father and son with Rik watching from the stands.

Josh, 20, doesn't compete in a high volume of matches for the Red Raiders but it is in the room every day to work with the team and his brothers.

"Personally it is not my favorite sport, but I think it has been awesome having him as a dad," Josh said. "With wrestling you learn discipline, self-control and what it means to be a real man."

Matthew, described as a "mat rat" by his father, is adjusting to college wrestling after going 29-9 for the Dutch last season. The 157-pounder brings a needed personality to the room that benefits the wrestlers and coaching staff.

"(My dad) is a little tougher on me but that is OK," Matthew said. "I am much more coachable than my brothers. I know when I am not doing too hot.

"I am always the one to push boundaries and we went to Hawaii and did cliff diving and I am the first one to jump off. I am an adrenaline junkie and I am always trying to push (my brothers) and that translates into the wrestling room."

"He and dad are like two peas in a pod and always laughing at each other," Elijah said. "I think that takes a lot of stress off my dad and that is good."

With the three brothers together for one final season there are sure to be plenty of memorable moments that will go beyond the wins and losses on the mat.

"When dad got the job here there (was the thought) we were all going to be wrestling in college and it is pretty fun to have my two brothers, my dad on the team with me," Matthew said. "It is just a good environment."

As the Dahls prepare for their first and last season as college wrestling teammates there is one thing that their father knows before any of them take to the mat this season.

"I want them to know win or lose it doesn't change how I love them," he said. "It doesn’t change how I think of them as men. I think they are great young men."

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