A fellow walked into a high school gym at 6:15 p.m. on Friday and walked out at 10:25 p.m., having lost all track of the time. As he stuck the car key into the ignition, he said to himself, “Man oh man that was really fun.”
The fellow says that a lot, because he’s fortunate to be employed in a position that takes him to high school events all across Minnesota. And this is a time of year, with a lot on the line, when dramatic and fantastic things happen everywhere you turn. One example from Friday night: the girls hockey team from Roseau defeated Brainerd/Little Falls 3-2 in a four-overtime game in Bemidji that sent the Rams to next week’s state tournament. You just know that everyone who was there in person will never forget it.
That is high drama, and that is also what took place at Rosemount High School. The sport was wrestling, and this was special. Here’s the tantalizing backstory …
On Dec. 1, in the opening match of the season for both teams, Shakopee went to Apple Valley and defeated the Eagles 29-28. That was the Eagles’ first dual-match defeat to a Minnesota team since 2006. Apple Valley has won the last 11 Class 3A state team titles and that Dec. 1 result upended the wrestling world in our state. Since that day, the Shakopee Sabers have held the No. 1 ranking in 3A with the Eagles No. 2.
Friday’s event was the Section 2 team tournament. Both teams won easily in the quarterfinals and semifinals, setting up the rematch that everyone knew was coming since that first day in December and that would send the winning team to state.
Apple Valley has qualified for every team state tournament since 1982. The question was: Can the Sabers end that streak?
And if that wasn’t enough of a storyline, how about this? Second-year Shakopee coach Jim Jackson spent 32 years at Apple Valley. His record as head coach there was 618-27-3 and the Eagles won 14 team state titles under him.
The anticipation was high and the wrestling lived up to it and more. The Sabers won three of the first four matches and led 10-3. The first sign that it might be the Eagles’ night came in the fifth match at 132 pounds. Shakopee senior Brent Jones is top-ranked at the weight and holds three state titles. But an Eagles sophomore named Sebas Swiggum pulled off the stunner, beating Jones 7-5 in overtime.
This Tweet was issued by @AVHSAthletics at 9:27 p.m.: “Regardless of the outcome, this has been an awesome night for Minnesota wrestling.”
The next big bolt of thunder came at 195 pounds. Another Apple Valley sophomore, Tyler Kim, scored in the final seconds to beat Shakopee senior Abe Ngaima 5-4. That forged a 19-19 tie, the fifth deadlock of the dual and sent the Eagles and their fans into a frenzy.
An 8-5 win by Apple Valley’s Tanyi Besong at 220 was the all-but clincher, with the Eagles leading 22-19 and the top-ranked heavyweight in the nation up next.
In the middle of that 220 match, the fellow received this Twitter dispatch from someone who knows Besong well: “Thank you so much for these Tweets. I am an airline pilot and my brother is wrestling so I'm ‘watching’ your tweets from airport.”
Gable Steveson, Apple Valley’s unbeaten and two-time state champion junior at 285 pounds, won by fall in 38 seconds to cap the evening and give the Eagles a 28-19 victory.
A few minutes later Gable told me, “After we lost on December first, I think it set a fire under the team. Today we came in and showed that we can wrestle with these guys. We can wrestle with anybody out there; we’re toe to toe, we’re head to head with everybody.”
Dalen Wasmund, who moved from assistant coach to head coach when Jackson left Apple Valley in 2012, gathered his wrestlers around him for a post-match chat. There were grins and hugs in the huddle.
“Sebas Swiggum beats a three-time state champion, how can it get any better than that?,” Wasmund said after the cluster broke up. “That was a real key match. Then we won at 152 by one. And to kind of salt it away, our 95-pounder gets a takedown with less than two seconds to go. All those really close things kind of added up to a victory for us. We’re just really happy, really proud of the kids.”
Jackson, who has been through the wrestling wars for a long time, took the long view.
“It was a great experience to be in this kind of situation. And you know, it’s all about learning and improving,” he said. “They won a couple of really close matches, which obviously when you win the close matches that’s big. There were a lot of close matches. They won at 32 and that was a big one, and at 95. I’m proud of our kids, I’m proud of how they competed. I thought it was a heck of a dual meet for the fans and it was great for high school wrestling.”
Indeed it was. The gym was overflowing with humans, including large student sections from both schools that kept the volume turned up to 11. At the above-mentioned key moments, fans roared, wrestlers leaped into the air, and everyone had the same thought: Man oh man this is really fun.
Everyone who was there will never forget it.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 407
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,307
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn