Plastic Trophies to Olympic Medals

By Brian Jerzak

There never has been much doubt in the mind of St. Michael-Albertville wrestler Mitchell McKee. He had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do at a young age. Most kids have an idea of what they want to do when they get older, but few have the talent and drive of a guy like McKee. From the day he invited his friend over for a play date in kindergarten, Mitchell McKee knew he wanted to be a wrestler.

McKee’s goals are much higher now than they were when he invited his friend over for a weekend play date, but big goals always have to start small.

“I invited (Mound Westonka senior) Lee Schmalz over, but his dad said he had a wrestling tournament first,” recalled McKee. “He came over afterward and he brought his trophy with him. Once I saw the trophy I knew I wanted to wrestle. I started that next Tuesday.”

When he had success at his first national tournaments, McKee knew he had a chance to get to an elite level. Watching others succeed heightened his drive.

Mitchell Mckee. Photo by Jeff Beshey.

Mitchell Mckee. Photo by Jeff Beshey.

“I started watching all the Division I championships and when Jake Deitchler was an Olympian I wanted to do that. Just seeing it first hand – as a wrestler – I wanted to do the same thing.”

Eventually, he became even more focused on his wrestling goals.

“I liked wrestling more than any other sport, and I knew I could have more success in wrestling than in anything else. I wanted to be great at one sport, not average at three. Winning felt better in wrestling than in any other sport. Winning as a team wasn’t as satisfying as winning individually.”

In wrestling, he has done a ton of both. During the high school season, McKee gets a chance to have the team experience while still winning individually.

“Our team is good, so it is a lot of fun,” said the two-time state champion. “When I wrestle and do well, and the team does well, we all have fun. Coach (Dan Lefebvre) said it after last season. He said I have never had a team that can joke around and have as much fun as you guys and still turn the switch and wrestle hard and wrestle well.”

After winning the state tournament in March and helping his team to another strong finish in St. Paul like always, McKee’s wrestling schedule continued to stay full.

“I won Folkstyle Nationals. I went to the World Team Trials and took second. I only lost a match or two at Junior Duals. I ended up winning Greco at Fargo and took second in freestyle.”

Of the three styles, freestyle is the one that the senior feels he is the best at and – if he had to decide – his favorite style. Solid in all three styles and all positions, McKee feels he is strongest in one particular area.

“I think I am best on top. In folkstyle I think I had twenty or so pins in a row. I bring the arm to the back and either do an armbar or go to a whip over.”

Like the sport itself, McKee has always liked armbars.

“I’ve always done an armbar since I was little, and I have just worked on it,” McKee said. “This last year I started just taking the arm to the back, grabbing the head and doing a whip over.”

In a tight match, McKee knows what he is going to look for on his feet.

“It would be either a snap down go behind or a lead leg single. I am a lefty, so I like the lead leg single.”

Everyone can always improve, and McKee knows he is no different.

“I can always improve from my feet. Specifically from my feet I need to figure out my shots and work on hand fighting.”

Wrestling since kindergarten and year round since junior high, McKee has been able to avoid one of the things that prevent many kids from participating in activities in high school – burn out.

“I always want to work on something after a loss,” McKee said. “That is what kept me striving to get better.”

McKee committed to wrestle for the Minnesota Gophers well in advance of the rest of the 2016 class.

“I go to the (Minnesota) duals all the time. Seeing that and watching them at the Division I championships I knew I wanted to be a Gopher.”

Once the Gophers showed interest in the three-time place winner and two-time state champion, McKee didn’t take long to make his intentions known.

“Some of my friends are worried about where they are going to go and take their official visits,” explained McKee. ”I just get to relax and know where I am going.”

Mitchell McKee has always seemed to know where he is going in athletics. Going forward, another state title, a national triple crown, becoming an All-American, a national champion, and an Olympian are the goals that McKee has set for himself. They are goals that are a far cry from winning a plastic trophy like he wanted when Schmalz came over all those years ago, but since that day McKee has known what he has wanted and so far has made it happen.

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