St. Michael-Albertville wrestling marched into the Class AAA Tournament the prohibitive favorite to come out of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with a stash of hardware this weekend, and the Knights didn’t disappoint despite a heartbreaking loss in Thursday’s team tournament.
STMA put seven wrestlers on the medal stand – and six of them into the State AAA finals at their respective weight class – dominating one of the most exciting weekends in high school sports.
And the annual Class AAA team tournament, which has been a traditional meeting for Apple Valley vs. STMA in the final, didn’t disappoint either, with the two teams putting up an instant classic, resulting in a 36-30 victory for the Eagles.
Despite the runner-up finish, the Knights continued to earn respect as a Class AAA powerhouse. After falling behind 9-0 to the Eagles, STMA rallied back behind No. 1 wrestlers like Lucas Jeske, Mitch McKee and Jake Allar on their way to a lead over the Eagles.
But after Jordan Joseph’s pin at 182 pounds gave the Knights a lead late, the Stevenson brothers – Gabe and Bobby – each won by fall, offsetting Jake Briggs’ decision at 220 pounds. Gabe Stevenson used his strength and speed at heavyweight – wrestling up a weight class from his normal 220 pounds – to take down STMA’s Randy Anderson with a pin for the six points and the win.
Coach Dan Lefebvre called the loss the team’s most disappointing defeat in their rivalry with AVHS, only because this team had “worked so hard” to close the gap with the state’s perennial team No. 1. A couple of breaks didn’t go the Knights’ way, however, and the Eagles were able to hold off their toughest challenge since STMA tied them for the state title in 2013.
Two Top Seeds, One Upstart Win Championships
In the individual tournament, the story of the weekend might have been Lucas Jeske at 152 pounds.
Jeske, who was ranked seventh in the state and making his first ever trip to the Xcel for the individual tournament, was outstanding in the first two rounds, winning with pins in the third periods of both matches. In the semifinal, he was never really threatened, either, cruising to a 9-1 decision. The junior (17 wins, 1 loss going into state) then pulled off a 4-2 decision over Rochester Mayo’s Brady Nelson (30-3) in the final to earn a state championship.
Jordan Joseph was another triumphant story for the Knights. After taking a year off from wrestling to focus on baseball in 2014, Joseph picked up where he left off as a state winner in 2013 this year. Ranked No. 1, Joseph had lost once all season, and was hardly challenged at the X. He won his opener by technical fall, gave up three points (most by escape) in his quarter and semifinal, and then dominated Luke Dodd of Eastview in the final, pulling off one of the best takedowns of the tournament in the meantime, to win state at 182 pounds with an 11-5 win.
And Mitch McKee moved up a weight class, survived the loss of his biggest fan – father, Steve – and almost broke the season record for pins statewide, settling instead for a major decision in the semis (13-1) and a dominant performance over George Farmah in the state championship for a second straight title. The junior will be back in 2015-2016 for a shot at a third state title, putting him in elite STMA company.
The Knights had a slew of wrestlers who finished higher than their state seeding. Evan Ronsen, who was No. 3 at 170 pounds, essentially won the title everyone else in the 170 class was hoping for – runner up to Apple Valley’s Mark Hall, who is the top high school wrestler in the nation according to many publications.
Ricky Briggs at 220 pounds knocked off Buffalo’s Adam Treptau in a very tough opening match, 4-3, and then cruised to the final against Gabe Stevenson of Valley. Briggs, ranked fourth in the state, lost the final but finished above his state seeding.
So, too, did Evan Foster, who was ranked fifth in the state but wrestled back to the third place match with a strong effort on Saturday morning and afternoon.
At 138 pounds, Jake Allar had an outstanding tournament, but fell just short in his final match. Eden Prarie’s Ben Barnacle had the better hand in the final, getting a 15-8 major decision over Allar, who was ranked No. 1 much of the season.