A familiar name on a different path; Mark Vaith almost didn’t go out for wrestling as a freshman but he's now back at the state meet
For wrestling fans, seeing another Vaith representing Hastings at the state meet this week is nothing new.
His eldest son, John Paul, was a fixture on the Raider roster for many years and placed third at the state meet.
Then Luke came along and he, too, was a fixture. He earned an individual state championship for Hastings several years ago.
On the surface, all that same success appeared destined for Mark Vaith, the youngest son of Paul and Jill Vaith.
Below the surface, though, the story was much different.
As a freshman at HHS, Mark Vaith almost decided to quit wrestling altogether. He put a lot of pressure on himself to live up to the name and, by that time in his life, football was his true athletic passion. He doubted whether he’d even be any good at wrestling.
“He said he didn’t want to be the first Vaith not to be on varsity,” said his father, Paul.
Things like the state meet weren’t even on his radar. Just cracking the varsity lineup seemed to be a big enough hurdle at the time.
Truth was, Mark Vaith didn’t look like a wrestler — at least not a freshman wrestler. His brothers dominated competition in the lower weights, typically around 130 or 140. Mark, though, was already broad-shouldered and taller than his brothers.
Eventually, though, Mark realized that he could use wrestling — not the other way around. He could use the sport to improve as a football player, and after coming to that realization, he didn’t look back.
As a freshman, he won the ninth-grade state championship. All of a sudden, he started to fill out and by the fall of his sophomore season, he was a starting outside linebacker for the football team. That winter, he won a junior varsity conference wrestling tournament and in the spring of his sophomore year, he even earned all-state honors in track.
Nothing, though, could have prepared him for what happened last year. He had another great season on the gridiron for the Raiders, then took to the mat in the winter for the Raider wrestling team. He had a very good conference season for Hastings but saved his best for last. Vaith qualified for the state meet at 182 pounds and came out of nowhere to win four matches at the state meet to place fourth.
He’d gone from thinking he couldn’t make the varsity team to earning all-state honors in just a few calendar years.
He entered this season as the No. 1 ranked wrestler at 195 pounds. He’s lost that ranking after dealing with a hand injury, but enters the state meet with a 31-6 record and is seeded seventh.
“I’m going in the same way I did last year — just with an open mind,” he said. “Everyone has a goal of making it to the top, but I’m not too worried about it. I feel pretty good making it again, and going together as a team again. I’m just ready to go out and compete again at the big show.”
That decision four years ago to come out for the team and stick with wrestling was, at the time, the biggest decision of Mark Vaith’s life.
“There was a lot of tossing and turning at night, for sure,” he said. “At the time, it was the biggest decision of my life. Just as a kid, it was a lot for me growing up — having my brothers be pretty good. I hadn’t been able to deal with the pressure all that well. That was my worry going into high school — that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish what my brothers did. That’s what got me thinking about not wrestling.”
He was quick to point out that the pressure he felt was pressure he was putting on himself.
There were expectations for Mark, but they didn’t have anything to do with his win/loss record, his father Paul said.
“At the time, we wanted him to know that people didn’t have any expectations, other than that he works hard and did his best and brought a great attitude and work ethic every day,” he said. “If you do that, good things will happen. He has learned that. He has seen everyone supporting him, rather than feeling like he has to live up to something that is not there.”
Vaith wrestled in the Hastings youth program and never quit, but wasn’t as passionate about it as his older brothers. Winning the ninth-grade state tournament was the shot in the arm that Mark’s wrestling career needed.
“Once I won state, I started to see a future in wrestling too — where I could possibly have some success,” he said. “That got me excited about it.”
His coach, Josh McLay, remembers a much different Mark Vaith from a few years ago.
“If you would have told me as a freshman that he’d be a two-time state entrant and an all-state wrestler, I would have been like, ‘He’s got a long ways to go if that’s going to be the case,’” McLay said. “He’s come such a long ways.”
While his career wasn’t laid out as neatly as it was for his brothers, it has turned out to be just as smooth, McLay said.
“Mark has had to make his own path,” he said. “I’m just happy he’s able to live up to that name — he’s just done it differently. He’s done it for the team. I appreciate that — it’s never been about him.”
Vaith has decided to play collegiate football and has narrowed his choices down to three schools.
He plans to visit them after the wrestling season concludes this weekend. He’s certainly drawn plenty of interest. He has great speed and is now about 6-2. He towers over his father who is “pushing 5-8,” Paul Vaith said.
“He just keeps growing,” Paul Vaith said.