BOZEMAN – Leif Schroeder can still remember the bus ride home.
Last February, Schroeder and his teammates found ways to enjoy the trip from Rimrock Auto Arena at Billings MetraPark, the home of Montana’s high school wrestling state tournament, back to their hometown of Bozeman. But when he walked through the front door at home, his frustrations came out.
“I got back and I was pretty upset. Individual success is good, but when you have so many guys that work hard every single day, you expect team success,” said Schroeder. “We did it all year last year and then the state tournament we couldn’t really finish it out.”
Schroeder won the 126-pound championship as a sophomore, while a pair of teammates – Sterling Quinn (120 pounds) and Chance McLane (145) – also captured medalist honors, but the Hawks finished runner-up to Kalispell Flathead in the team race.
Not delivering seniors like Keegan Mulhill and Brandon Cooper a team state championship didn’t sit well with Schroeder, who has increased his efforts in the practice room this winter.
“Work hard, because I’m definitely not the best wrestler in our room,” he said, “so I challenge myself and push it as hard as I can, pushing myself, comparing myself to where I was last year and trying to compete with those guys in the room, as well.”
“He’s a leader, he’s a captain. His brother (Purdue freshman Bjorn Schroeder) was the same way and I think Leif was able to see that when he was a freshman and Bjorn was a senior,” said Hawks head wrestling coach Nate Laslovich. “He really emulates that type of kid. He really is, he’s a team-first guy and really has a lot of confidence in himself, so I think that takes a little pressure off himself and he can focus on the other guys and always bring out the best in everybody.”
The Schroeder family has been all in on the wrestling mats for years. Trackwrestling.com shows first-place finishes for a 10-and-under Leif Schroeder, 8-and-under for Bjorn. Each boasts Class AA individual state championships, with Leif, a junior, completing the first half of his chase for four consecutive titles.
Their dedication and work ethic was contagious, but it did lead to some sibling squabbles.
“Wrestling was pretty safe in the house, but we would get in the wrestling room and wrestle hard,” said Leif. “I can remember my freshman year, me and my brother would practice every single day, we were going live and got into a heated situation. I was sitting on the mat and he was really hot-headed, ready to fight, and Laslovich looked over…”
“Leif probably had it coming,” said Laslovich. “Who knows, he probably did something cheap to Bjorn. Leif was sitting cross-legged telling Bjorn to ‘Calm down, calm down,’ and Bjorn was like, ‘Get up,’ because Bjorn was going to deliver a beating. I came by and saw it, we had jump ropes and I said, ‘Grab a jump rope,’ because we didn’t need any blood spilled in the room.”
“I think it was awesome, because my brother taught me a lot that I know as far as working hard and chasing what you want to do,” Leif said. “He was a good example of that for me, because I saw him as a younger kid not immediately have a lot of success, then keep coming up. I was heartbroken when he was in high school and didn’t win (the state championship), I definitely knew he was the best wrestler. It fueled me just as much as it fueled him. Now we look back and it’s like, ‘All right, they remember the high school state titles, but if you’re wrestling in college that’s what you’re going to remember.'”
Schroeder says he’s had conversations with the likes of Purdue, Maryland and Brown, though many others are certainly interested in adding him to their programs. He’s already been crowned champion at prestigious tournaments like the Great Falls CMR Holiday Classic and Tom LeProwse, with another gold medal at state likely to follow.
Bozeman has also finished as the top team in those tournaments, something Schroeder has taken pride in.
“Just (keep) improving on stuff that I need to work on. There’s a handful of things I can work on myself, but for the whole team, I want to win the state team title and win the individual title myself, that’s obviously a goal, but I have a way to go to get there and I’m working,” he said.
It’s likely to make the bus ride home from state this February more memorable, too.