Knights finish as wrestling co-champs with Apple Valley
By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
Mixed emotions greeted the faces of both the Apple Valley and St. Michael-Albertville wrestling teams when the Xcel Energy Center public address announcer closed by saying, “co-champions.”
For one squad, years of domination at the Class 3A state tournament assures their team name once again
will be printed in next year’s program when listing off past champions. Apple Valley’s remarkable run of state titles continues at eight straight seasons and 14 of the last 15 years.
Another squad, STMA, came into the tournament with a near perfect 30-1 record and sub-planted the Eagles as the perennial favorite on paper and fan favorite in the stands as the No. 1 team in the state.
The Eagles reached the finals by defeating both Moorhead 55-9 and Prior Lake 36-19. STMA knocked off Willmar 53-9 and outlasted a pesky Owatonna squad 40-21, setting up a rematch of the past four seasons in Class 3A.
“This whole year, it’s been the talk. It’s going to be such a great match,” said senior Mikey Kessler, on the matchup with the Eagles.
Kessler was one of 12 Knights who qualified for the individual tournament as well. The Knights heavyweights were a big reason for the success this year. Thursday’s team competition proved no different.
After easily knocking off an overmatched Willmar squad – one that STMA head coach Dan Lefebvre held out seniors Lincoln Mallinger and Ricky Briggs – the Knights got a brief scare in the semifinals from Owatonna.
Freshman Mitchell McKee, junior Tommy Thorn, senior Tanner Mills and junior Mark Voss each picked up decisions helping build a 15-4 lead. Owatonna would close the gap to 18-15, but STMA’s heavyweights would take over and the Knights would win going away 40-21.
Sophomore Jordan Joseph, senior Mitch Eull and both Briggs and Kessler all won by fall, putting the Knights in the championship match.
“I think we were kind of surprised how tough Owatonna was,” Kessler said. “They came out hard and it was a little bit close there for a while. We took it to them at the end there, but they were definitely a lot tougher than we expected.”
Much like the matchup with the Huskies, STMA’s lightweights gave the Knights a quick edge in the much anticipated showdown with Apple Valley. McKee gave the Knights a ton of momentum early, pinning Apple Valley’s Zach Chytka in just 1:23.
The fall proved to be important, as both teams traded decisions throughout the early rounds.
“A couple matches could have gone differently in the dual, but I thought we brought our A-game,” said Thorn, who earned a 13-2 decision at 120 pounds which helped build a 19-7 lead over the Eagles.
The defending champions would take over in the middle weights. Dayton Racer, Mark Hall, Davlonte Young and Daniel Woiwor won four straight matches and with just four matchups left, the Eagles took a 25-19 advantage.
With a chance to extend their lead, Ricky Briggs came up with a clutch 182 lbs. 7-5 decision over Trom Peterson, cutting the lead to 25-22.
“We were heavy favorites there at 182 and we were hoping to score some bonus points,” Lefebvre said. “You know, it’s hard on these kids. It’s mentally draining. Gosh, great matches right down to the wire. They are a well coached team and they fight hard too.”
Just when it appeared STMA stole momentum, the Eagles took a 28-22 lead on David Johnson’s 6-5 decision over Jake Briggs. All that stood in the way from another outright title for Apple Valley was a 220-pound Eull and a 285-pound Kessler.
Trailing most the match, Eull scored a huge reversal late in his match and stole a 5-4 decision that cut the lead to 28-25. That set up Kessler against Lord Joshua Hyeamang. Playing in a defensive mode, Hyeamang didn’t allow much, but Kessler eventually earned a 2-0 decision and the Knights and Eagles finished as co-champs, tied 28-28.
“I wanted to be able to get on top of him to get the pin,” said Kessler after with mixed emotions. “I’m still happy with winning and tying it up. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s almost fitting that we end up tied with these guys. It’s been such a rivalry.”
Thorn and Lefebvre had other opinions on the tie.
“It’s a little disappointing,” said Thorn, who was sporting a fresh shiner over his right eye that he suffered in the section finals. “You don’t know how to react to a tie. We are happy, we got the job done. This was one of the most fun season’s I’ve ever had.”
“We set out to be state champions at the beginning of the year,” Lefebvre said. “We are, but we just wanted Apple Valley to finish second. Two first-place teams, it is what it is. Nobody wants to be co-champs. Even though we would have won the dual by criteria had advancement been needed, I think the rule should stay. I would hate to lose a championship at the state finals by criteria.”