MARSHALL - It all began in a barren office space at Northwestern College. That's where Southwest Minnesota State Cross Country and Soccer coaches Nate Wolf and TJ Buchholz began their nearly decade-long friendship. That friendship helped them both end up at SMSU, where they now lead two successful and growing programs.
Both are gathered in Buchholz's office in the athletic department at SMSU.
In fall of 2005, the two were forced together when their cubicles were put together in a giant, unused office space. "We were kind of afterthoughts," said Buchholz.
Photo by David Merrill
Two freshmen battle it out during a recent Southwest Minnesota State Soccer practice. Morgan Darner attempts to catch up with the ball as she dribbles around McKenna Peters.
The Mustangs will head into the season ranked No. 21 in NCAA Division II and will take on Fort Hays Sate (Kansas) to open the season Sept. 5.
The two were the only coaches who routinely used the space. At first, they didn't think that they would be friends.
"It was about four weeks into the semester that we decided we would be okay with each other," said Wolf. The two bonded over sports and music.
Coaches are sometimes thought of as no-nonsense, all-business types, but Buchholz and Wolf cut loose every once in a while. "Nate had this nice sound system and he would blare White Zombie," said Buchholz.
"We were away from the athletic office," added Wolf.
"When you're working 14- to 16-hour days you gotta at least take a break for twenty minutes and enjoy a laugh," said Buchholz. "So he would play White Zombie."
"More Human Than Human," said Wolf, noting the song title.
"It was just blaring and we wondered if anyone was going to notice," said Buchholz.
Good thing it doesn't take heavy metal for people to notice them today. Buchholz coached the Mustang soccer team to their best record ever last season. Wolf started the SMSU track and cross-country programs from scratch when the school decided to restart them a few years ago.
Both agree that their friendship has helped them work harder as coaches. "If I call him at eight o' clock and ask 'what are you doing?' He'll say 'I'm recruiting,' and I'll say 'Oh that's good,' and I'm thinking to myself, man I gotta work as hard as Nate," said Buchholz.
"And in the morning, I'll get a text from him at 7:30 and I'll just be getting ready to leave to come to work and I'll know he's been up for two hours. I'm like ahh I gotta get up earlier tomorrow," said Wolf.
"We kind of feed off each other that way," said Buchholz.
They have influenced each others coaching styles as well. "I probably get more out of my athletes than I did six years ago," said Wolf, commenting on being influenced by Buchholz's direct communications style.
Buchholz said that he has "a better relationship with his athletes" due to being influenced by Wolf's more personable communication style.
If you're an SMSU athlete, or a booster, and pass by Orange City, Iowa, take a moment to tip your hat to Northwestern College and their great big barren office space.