By John Nalan
As the coaches pack up their notebooks after the seeding meeting on the Thursday night of the Minnesota Christmas Tournament, the big day, Christmas, is only twelve days off. The classic Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was first published in 1780 in England. The wrestling tournament hasn’t been around that long, only 31 years, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting together my own version of the holiday classic for this year. So sit back and enjoy my twelve things to watch for this weekend.
For #1, I look no further than the number one ranked high school wrestler in the country, Gable Steveson. The Apple Valley senior is back at 285 pounds this year looking for his third Christmas title. Apple Valley missed the tournament last year due to the poor weather conditions, so the fans in Rochester haven’t seen Steveson at the Christmas Tournament since he won his 2015 title. Gable’s last loss in high school was at the state finals his eighth-grade year. He now has over 130 wins in a row. Sit back and enjoy the show this year, but don’t take your eyes off the mat, it only took him eleven seconds to win the in-state finals last winter.
This is the second year the Christmas Tournament will be awarding the “Santa Hat” to the individual champions. It’s the start of a great tradition. I love when tournaments do something a little special for the wrestlers. The Santa Hat is exactly what you probably expect it is, a customized red hat with fur trim and a white ball on the top. I won a belt buckle at a tournament back in high school and I still wear it to this day. I’m sure this year’s winners will be back in Rochester 30 years from now proudly wearing their Santa Hats.
This is the number of Carlson brothers from Willmar we’ll probably see this weekend. They’re fun to watch. Clay is a senior who was a state finalist last year. Cael was also a state finalist last year and is a junior. Caden, only a freshman, is in his first Christmas tournament. Willmar is a strong program from Central Minnesota and Section 8. They haven’t won an individual title here since 1991, but this just might be the year.
There are four matches I’m hoping we see this weekend. One of the great things about the Christmas Tournament is how top wrestlers from different states and classes get to battle it out. It’s something a person won’t see at the state tournament, so this is our chance to enjoy the matches.
- Jake Gliva of Simley v. Sam Stuhl of Ellsworth, WI. Stuhl is the defending champion here and Gliva won the title in 2015. Both are nationally ranked and have a hard-nosed style. Watch for this one.
- Tyler Eischens of Anoka v. Alex Lloyd of Shakopee. Both of these guys were state champions in Class AAA last year. Eischens won the Santa Hat here in Rochester last season and finished the season undefeated. Lloyd’s only loss of the season came here in the finals to Peyton Robb. A potential classic.
- Peyton Robb of Owatonna v. Jared Franek of West Fargo, ND. Both won this tournament last year and are nationally ranked. Robb has committed to South Dakota State and Franek to North Dakota State, so this rivalry may be just beginning.
- Tyler Buesgens of Scott West v. Cade King of Owatonna. These are two tough guys looking to make a statement this weekend. If they meet up, we’ll all have a good reason to celebrate.
There will be five states represented this weekend. The Christmas Tournament always brings in talented teams and individuals from around the country and this year is no exception. Aside from the Minnesota teams, look for wrestlers from West Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota, Leo Catholic of Chicago, Illinois, and Wahlert Catholic from Dubuque, Iowa. There are also three Wisconsin teams, Ellsworth, Holmen, and St. Croix Falls.
It’s time for some predictions. Here are my picks for the top six teams at this year’s tournament. I know it’s a bit unusual to pick team scores and placements. I’ve even been called crazy by a certain national wrestling media figure for making predictions like this, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. So, here they are, my 2017 team score predictions.
- Apple Valley, 221 points
- Kasson-Mantorville, 215.5 points
- Simley, 174 points
- Anoka, 167 points
- Shakopee, 147 points
- Scott West, 128.5 points
Seven wrestlers at 160 pounds are ranked #1 or #2 in the state. That’s going to be a crazy weight class whether they all end up there or not. The #1 ranked wrestlers are Josh Ramirez from Wahlert Catholic, Peyton Robb from Owatonna, Jared Franek from West Fargo, and Cade Mueller from Waconia. The #2 ranked athletes are Colton Krell from Westfield, Tanner Wiese from Forest Lake, and Dalton Andrist from Kasson-Mantorville. Whatever happens in this weight class, everyone on the podium will have earned it.
Head Coach Mike Foy of Leo Catholic from Illinois has won eight international and national medals as a Greco-Roman wrestler. He represented the United States at the 1988 Seoul Olympics as well as the 1992 Barcelona games. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he won a silver medal at the 1989 World Championships, a gold medal at the Pan-Am Games that same year, and a bronze medal at the 1990 World Cup. He’s also a five-time National Greco-Roman champion. Welcome back to Minnesota, Mike!
An amazing nine weight classes have at least two wrestlers who are currently ranked #1 in their state. They say this tournament can be tougher to win than a state tournament and this is one of the reasons why. There are state champions and #1 ranked wrestlers littered over almost every bracket. All 14 brackets should have at least one #1 ranked athlete, but that’s apparently not tough enough for the Christmas Tournament. It’s one of the few events in the nation where most of the #1 ranked wrestlers will not even be the tournament’s top seed.
This year the Christmas Tournament has ten former champions scheduled to compete. That’s an unusually high number for a tournament that is traditionally dominated by seniors. The tournament has a reputation for having at least one young wrestler breakthrough onto the national stage with a victory. Mark Hall, Brady Berge, Seth Gross, and Ben Morgan all come to mind. Be on the lookout; it might happen again this year.
I believe the current record for large barrels of popcorn consumed by a fan during a Christmas Tournament is eleven. As with all eating records, this is an unofficial record. All popcorn must be purchased and consumed on the premises. Keep in mind that anyone attempting to break the record does so at their own risk. I’m not encouraging record-breaking attempts, but if the record is tied or broken this year, please let me know. Good luck.
There are twelve nationally ranked wrestlers scheduled to be at the tournament this year. Here’s the list that comes to us from the Intermat rankings.
#1 at 285: Gable Steveson, Apple Valley
#2 at 170: Patrick Kennedy, Kasson-Mantorville
#2 at 220: Greg Kerkvleit, Simley
#4 at 145: Alex Lloyd, Shakopee
#4 at 160: Peyton Robb of Owatonna
#6 at 126: Patrick McKee of St. Michael-Albertville
#7 at 120: Ryan Sokol of Simley
#8 at 160: Jared Franek of West Fargo
#13 at 152: Tyler Eischens of Anoka
#14 at 132: Jake Gliva of Simley
#18 at 160: Josh Ramirez of Wahlert Catholic
#19 at 132: Sam Stuhl of Ellsworth
When we sing The Twelve Days of Christmas, everyone knows what is coming next. At this event, that just isn’t the case, so at least try to keep an eye on every match. Good luck to all of the wrestlers.
Teams competing: Albert Lea, Anoka, Apple Valley, Bismarck (ND), Eagan, Eastview, Ellsworth (WI), Farmington, Forest Lake, Hastings, Holmen (WI), Jackson County Central, Kasson-Mantorville, Kaukauna (WI), Leo (IL), Minnetonka, Moorhead, Moundsview, Owatonna, Pipestone, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Prior Lake, Rochester Mayo, Scott West, Shakopee, Simley, St. Cloud Tech, St. Croix Falls (WI), St. Francis, St. Michael-Albertville, Stewartville, Stillwater, Totino-Grace, Waconia, Wahlert Catholic (IA), Wayzata, West Fargo (ND), Westfield, Willmar, and Zumbrota-Mazeppa.