Eagles prevail after being pushed to limit

Apple Valley comes back to win 12th straight wrestling championship

Tanyi Besong won a key match at 220 pounds as Apple Valley defeated Anoka 30-24 in the state Class 3A final. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Tanyi Besong won a key match at 220 pounds as Apple Valley defeated Anoka 30-24 in the state Class 3A final. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

It’s not often that Tanyi Besong’s match affects the outcome of an Apple Valley wrestling dual. But when confronted with a must-win situation last week, the Eagles senior was ready.

Besong wrestles at 220 pounds. Apple Valley, which was ranked first or second in Class 3A all season, usually put its dual meets out of reach before Besong took the mat. That was not the case in the state Class 3A championship match March 2 at Xcel Energy Center. Apple Valley trailed by four points with two matches remaining – 220, where Besong was favored, and 285, where undefeated Gable Steveson was heavily favored.

Still, you could see Apple Valley fans nervously shifting in their seats, wondering if the Eagles’ streak of 11 consecutive state championships was about to end. “It’s a tense situation. Anything can happen in wrestling,” Eagles coach Dalen Wasmund said. “It just takes five seconds and things can change.”

Besong took care of his business, winning a 12-1 decision over Evan DeChene. Steveson pinned Anoka heavyweight Brandon Frankfurth in 22 seconds as Apple Valley won 30-24 and earned its 25th state title in the last 35 years.

“We know what to do in those moments of stress because we’ve had them before,” Besong said. “It felt great to have it on my shoulders because I knew I could get the job done.”

Apple Valley (22-2) defeated Anoka 34-15 at the Clash Duals on Dec. 31 but expected a much closer match this time – and got it.

The Eagles took an 11-0 lead after two matches, but Anoka won seven of the next 10 and was leading 24-20 after the 195-pound match.

Besong knew what his match meant, but “all you can do is wrestle,” he said. “If the kid ended up being better than me, then he’s better than me. I just wrestled my hardest.”

Although the Eagles often clinched victories before the final two matches, Besong has wrestled in high-pressure situations. The last two years he won key matches as Apple Valley defeated Shakopee in the Section 2 final both seasons.

Earlier this season, the experience wasn’t as positive when the Eagles took on Shakopee in the season opener. Shakopee led by four points and had already forfeited the heavyweight match to Steveson, meaning Besong had to earn at least a major decision in the final match of the night to prevent an Apple Valley loss. He won 3-1, but the Sabers left the Apple Valley gym with a 29-28 victory.

“I went up to the (wrestling) room and cried for hours, but my coaches talked to me,” he said. “I soul-searched the whole season, but I knew the end of the season is what matters most.”

Steveson earned all but one of his victories this season by fall or forfeit and wasted no time closing out the championship match. “State finals, and I had to pull it off,” he said. “I’m willing to do all the jobs I need to. In the end, the last two matches, we stepped it up. All the guys who won stepped it up.”

Regan Schrempp won by technical fall at 106 and Adam Mickelson pinned his opponent at 113 as the Eagles took an early lead. Sebas Swiggum (132), Nate Larson (145) and Jalen Thul (170) won their matches by decision.

Apple Valley routed Minnetonka 73-3 and Hastings 52-12 in the first two rounds of the state team tournament. St. Michael-Albertville, which reached the state final six of the previous seven years (and shared the Class 3A championship with Apple Valley in 2013), lost to Anoka 38-26 in the semifinals.

Anoka was one of Apple Valley’s toughest challenges in the state team tourney in recent years. “We knew there were going to be some tight matches there,” Wasmund said. “We lost one in overtime and lost a couple of other close matches. We knew that could happen, for sure.”

Nine of the 14 wrestlers who were in Apple Valley’s lineup for the championship match are underclassmen, meaning the Eagles figure to have a good start on their bid for a 13th consecutive state championship next season. Who will coach them might still have to be sorted out. Wasmund was named Class 3A coach of the year, but there has been speculation that he will retire.

“I haven’t made that decision,” said Wasmund, who took over as head coach in 2012 after years as an Eagles assistant. “There’s capable guys ready to take over, so whenever it happens, I feel good about that.”

The wrestlers’ objective won’t change. Said Steveson: “2018 state champions. That’s our goal.”

Individuals

Gable Steveson dominated the Class 3A, 285-pound division at the state wrestling tournament, winning all seven of his matches by fall. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Gable Steveson dominated the Class 3A, 285-pound division at the state wrestling tournament, winning all seven of his matches by fall. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Eleven Apple Valley wrestlers qualified for the state individual competition Friday and Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. Three reached championship matches, and Steveson completed his third consecutive undefeated season with a dominating performance at heavyweight. He put an exclamation point on his seven-pin performance at state by pinning Anoka’s Brandon Frankfurth in 11 seconds in the 285-pound championship match – or half the time he needed to pin Frankfurth in the Class 3A team championship match.

The only wrestler to make it past the first period against Steveson was North St. Paul’s Corey Guenther, who was pinned in 2 minutes, 52 seconds.

“A heavyweight pinning somebody so quick really doesn’t happen,” Steveson said. “Usually, it’s a 0-0, overtime match. With me going out there and finishing it off for the crowd, I think they really liked it.”

Steveson (42-0) last lost a high school match in the 2014 Class 3A 195-pound finals, when he was in eighth grade. He won state championships at 220 the last two seasons before moving up to heavyweight this year.

At 245 pounds, he’s often lighter than his opponents, although this year it made little difference. No one scored a takedown against him this season.

This summer, Steveson said he’s hoping to compete in the Junior World tournament in Finland and the Cadet World tourney in Greece. He’s a two-time Cadet World champion at 220.

Schrempp (32-16), a ninth-grader, lost to Reid Ballantyne of Stillwater 7-1 in the championship match at 106. Thul (36-7), a senior, reached the championship match at 170 before losing by technical fall to St. Michael-Albertville’s Jake Allar, a national junior freestyle champion

“The guys who went out in the finals wrestled their hardest,” Steveson said. “They both gave it their all. I told our 106-pounder, the first time I was in this building for a state finals match, I lost. I haven’t lost a high school match since. I think it’s going to put something in him that wants to keep winning.”

Mickelson won four of his six matches at 113 and placed fourth. One of his losses was to Farmington’s Trayton Anderson, the eventual state runner-up.

Brady Gross was 4-2 at 120 and defeated Minnetonka’s Boyd Mumbuwa 3-2 for fifth place. Sebas Swiggum was 0-1 at 132 and did not get to compete in the wrestlebacks.

Kyle Rathman defeated Sam Webster of Shakopee 5-4 in the ultimate tie-breaker to finish third at 138. Rathman was 4-1 in the tournament; his only loss was by one point in the semifinals.

Nate Larson went 3-3 at 145 and placed sixth. Devin Roberts lost his only match in the 152 bracket.

Jonah Johnson won his first two matches at 182 and lost to eventual runner-up Trey Rogers of Hastings 3-2 in the semifinals before eventually finishing sixth.

Besong went 4-2 at 220 and placed fifth. Two of his victories came in overtime.