With the Super Bowl just two days away, high school wrestling was treated to a Super Bowl of sorts at Simley High School on Friday night. Not only was Simley – the number two ranked AA team in the state rolling with the number one ranked team in AAA – Apple Valley – in a match many wrestling fans across the nation have been talking about, Simley’s Daniel Kerkvliet was moving up from 220 to 285 to face Apple Valley’s Gable Steveson. With both teams being in different classes and both headlining wrestlers being in different weight classes, in the scope of Minnesota high school wrestling the result of the match was going to change little in the grand scheme of the high school wrestling season. Some might say way do it. Like Kerkvliet said – why not?
The gym was packed to capacity as the two teams took the mat.
Apple Valley got out to an 8-0 lead, but Simley’s Cael Berg cut into the lead with a first-period fall. Apple Valley’s Peyton McLagan got the Eagles back on track with a 6-2 win to give his team an 11-6 lead. While Steveson and Kerkvliet was the headliner, Valley’s Sebas Swiggum against Simley’s Jake Gliva was an excellent undercard bout. Gliva was more active in the first period, but neither wrestler was able to score. Swiggum took a 1-0 lead with an early escape and seemed to push the pace more in period two.
The third period was all Gliva. Gliva scored an early reverse, and then he brought the Simley crowd to its feet with a five-point move that nearly ended in a fall. That key sequence keyed a 13-5 major decision win for Gliva and the Spartans.
Two straight Apple Valley pins put the Eagles back in control of the dual 23-10. Simley would score the next eight points to pull the home team to within five points, but Devin Roberts and Tony Watts would give Apple Valley back to back victories to keep Simley at arm’s reach.
The home fans came to their feet again as Freddy Rivera picked up a pin, but Simley would have to forfeit at 220 to clinch the match for the Eagles.
The match was clinched, but the fun was just starting.
When Steveson and Kerkvliet met at the center of the mat, the Simley gym was instantly standing room only.
“I just viewed it as an opportunity,” Kerkvliet said, “to wrestle a great wrestler – number one in the nation – why not?”
“He knew he was giving up some weight and might take a loss,” Simley head coach Will Short said. “He didn’t care; he said I want to go for it.”
Kerkvliet came out in the first period as the aggressor. He got in on a single leg, but Steveson was able to fight the leg attack off to keep the match scoreless. Near the end of the period it was Steveson in on a single, but the period ended before he could secure the takedown.
“I slowed my shot selection down,” Kerkvliet said. “If I was going to take a shot I was going to make sure I get to the leg and put myself in position to finish. I did a couple of times, but I never was able to capitalize on it.”
Steveson picked up an escape early in the second period. Later Kerkvliet was in on another shot, but Steveson was again able to defend, and Kerkvliet was unable to score before the two champs left the mat.
Steveson let Kerkvliet up to start the third period. With the score tied at one Steveson nearly scored with a takedown off a counter of a Kerkvliet shot. Soon after, Steveson was in on his own leg attack and was able to secure the only takedown of the match.
“When I opened up the shots came,” Steveson said, “but when I sat there and played his game the shots weren’t there. When I got my hands on him, the shots were there.”
With 45 seconds to go Kerkvliet cut the deficit to 3-2 with an escape. The Simley junior got in on two shots in the final 45 seconds, but Steveson was able to force a stalemate on the first attempt and fought off one more attack just before the buzzer to secure a 3-2 victory.
“Gable wrestled with all the pressure tonight,” Short said. “Greg wrestled with the attitude of ‘I’ve got nothing to lose.’ I am impressed by Gable. He always puts himself on the line in big situations, and he rises to them. As special as Greg is, I think Gable is that special too. He is a phenomenal athlete.”
The match lived up to all the hype. It was a night unlike any we will see anytime soon. Apple Valley would win the match, but the real winners were the Minnesota wrestling fans. It was a great event and an electric evening.
— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) February 3, 2018