ROCHESTER - If there was any doubt left that St. Michael-Albertville -- undefeated and winner of the prestigious Christmas Tournament two weeks ago -- has supplanted Apple Valley as the chief dog in Minnesota high school wrestling, those questions were answered Friday and Saturday at the Clash National Duals.
Despite losing their final match of the day, the Knights won the tournament, narrowly edging Montini Catholic of Lombard, Ill., in the championship bracket. The Knights finished with 55 team points, edging Montini by a point.
Considered one of the nation's premier prep wrestling tournaments, the Clash featured 32 teams from across the country, including 13 teams ranked among the nation's top 50 by the InterMat wrestling website.
Organizers hoped the tournament would showcase the strength of Minnesota wrestling, but the first day of competition proved more arduous than anticipated for state teams, with only St. Michael-Albertville qualifying for Saturday's four-team championship bracket.
The Knights salvaged some of Minnesota's prestige in the process, winning their first five matches before losing to Brandon, Fla., 33-21 in their final match. The Knights, stung by losses from their two top wrestlers -- 113-pounder Mitchell McKee and 120-pounder Tommy Thorn -- trailed just 24-21 going into the duals' final two matches, but that was as close as they would get.
The loss did not affect the final result, however, as no team in the championship bracket went undefeated. St. Michael-Albertville was declared the winner on tiebreaker criteria.
That SMA even had the chance to wrestle for the team championship was remarkable. The Knights began the day falling behind Carl Sandburg 23-0 before rallying to tie 26-26 on a pin by 145-pounder Lincoln Mallinger in the final match of the dual. They were declared winner by virtue of tiebreakers. The Knights then handed Montini Catholic its only loss of the tournament, 34-21.