Dante Springsteen wants so badly to end this high school wrestling season with a state title.
Because he knows that if he doesn’t — he won’t hear the end of it from his older brother.
“I know if I don’t come away with the state championship, he’s going to brag about that every day of my life, saying that he was a state champion and I wasn’t,” Springsteen said with a laugh. “I can’t let that happen.”
Bethel High School wrestling runs deep in the Springsteen family. His older brother, Phillip, concluded his high school career by winning a state title last year and now wrestles at the University of Mary in North Dakota.
Their father, Oscar, who is an assistant coach for the Braves, was one of the first wrestlers in school history to win a state title in 1980.
Dante Springsteen has accomplished a lot in the sport himself, with a third-place and second-place finish at state on his résumé.
But like his father and brother before him, Dante wants a state title.
Springsteen’s ultimate goal for this season is clear, but he isn’t taking the easy road to get there. After placing second at 152 pounds in the 4A classification at last year’s Mat Classic, Springsteen jumped to 160 pounds for his senior campaign as Bethel moved down to 3A.
If he’s able to make a return trip to the state championship match this season, he could face North Central’s Brian Wais, who won the 3A title at 152 pounds a year ago.
“Normally a kid will try and avoid a kid like Wais, but we don’t do that,” Bethel coach Mario Ragazzo said. “He takes the challenge and wants the challenge. I wanted him to have that challenge. I think that makes you a better wrestler and a better person.”
Springsteen has one loss this season and is ranked second in the state among 3A 160-pounders by Washington Wrestling Report, behind only Wais.
If Springsteen, who is committed to continue his wrestling career at Boise State University, is to accomplish his goal, it will come after hundreds of hours of hard work.
But that’s nothing new for the senior. As a freshman, he faced a daunting schedule filled with opponents who had previously been to state, but he finished with a record of 27-11, qualifying for state.
“His freshman year, he wrestled the toughest kid on everybody’s team, it seemed like, every single match,” Ragazzo said. “It just seemed like whoever we were wrestling, if they had a state placer or a state (participant) on their team, it was at Dante’s weight.
“Dante lost a lot of those matches at the beginning of the year, but they were close. I think that is what really propelled him when he started wrestling higher-level competition and started to get close, and then started to win those matches.”
Springsteen, who has a career record of 135-22, didn’t place at state as a freshman, but returned as a sophomore and placed third. Last year, he advanced to the 4A state championship match at 152 pounds, falling to Todd Beamer’s Adrian Avena, 7-5.
“He had a real tough road of opponents to wrestle to get to the state finals last year,” Ragazzo said. “He had to wrestle some of best wrestlers in the state with a lot of accolades and had to win those matches to get to the finals.
“I think that mental toughness that it takes to get to the state tournament and wrestle some of the best wrestlers in the state is going to set him up to be able to do that again and repeat into the finals — and hopefully win this time.”
The mental side of the sport has been the main focus for Springsteen and his coaches this season.
“I think he has all the tools he needs to get it done,” Oscar Springsteen said. “He just has to be mentally ready.
“A lot of people think you have to be in great condition, and you do. You’ve got to be physically fast and be a technician. You’ve got to have all that stuff, but if you’re not sound mentally, you could have all the tools in the world and you’ll fall short.”
On the wrestling mat, Dante Springsteen’s physicality and work ethic are unquestioned, Ragazzo said.
But it’s honing the finer mental aspects of the sport that will vault Springsteen to that state-champion level.
“He’s worked extremely hard. He has a great gas tank and an incredible work ethic in the (wrestling) room, so he’s taken care of that,” Ragazzo said. “Everything this season has been mental, setting goals and reaching those goals, setting new goals and reaching those goals, and just keep going as we go along the year.”
But Springsteen’s impact hasn’t just been felt individually.
Ragazzo credits Springsteen with helping to rebuild the Braves’ wrestling program. When Ragazzo took over as head coach seven years ago, it had been more than a decade since the team had seen any real success.
In the years since, Bethel hasn’t placed lower than third in its league and Springsteen has been a captain the past three seasons.
“The one thing about Dante that people really should know is that his work ethic and his drive on the mat is an example to our entire team,” Ragazzo said. “Having someone like him on our team being a team captain, he’s the best team captain I’ve ever seen.
“He calls the team. He sets up team runs on his own. He does all of the extra things that you want a leader to do.”
And that rivals in importance to being a state champion.
“He’s just a very key player in what we’ve tried to grow as a program here at Bethel,” Ragazzo added. “He’s the epitome of what happens when you follow along with our program. Our program has really changed since I got here. A lot of that is due to Dante and his four years here. He’s been very impactful in what we’ve done as a team.”