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Fans excited to have team titles up for grabs

02/28/2013, 11:14pm CST
By JIM PAULSENjames.paulsen@startribune.com

Many expected new champions this year.

Fans cheered during the Class 3A championship match between Apple Valley and St. Michael-Albertville, which ended in a tie.

A full two hours before the start of the wrestling state tournament team finals Thursday night, the lower bowl of the Xcel Energy Center was full.

Many were there to cheer on their teams in the third place and consolation rounds, which were taking place, but a steady stream of fans was filing into the arena, anticipating a pair of championship matches that had captured the imagination of the local wrestling community.

For the first time since 2005, Apple Valley was not the prohibitive favorite in Class 3A. In fact, the Eagles' opponent, St. Michael-Albertville, was ranked No. 1 and was the pre-match choice of most fans to end Apple Valley's seven-year stranglehold on the title.

"I can't wait," said Ottie Otness, an 18-year tournament veteran who was covering St. Michael-Albertville for Buffalo-based radio station KRWC. "People have been talking about this for a long time. I've got chills."

Things were much the same in Class 2A. Simley, which had won the championship every year since becoming a Class 2A team, saw its five-year reign in jeopardy from Kasson-Mantorville. The KoMets carried the No. 1 ranking into the finals, courtesy of a 37-22 victory over Simley in late January.

"Beating Simley has been the goal for two years," said Jeff Rendler, a Kasson resident and longtime wrestling fan. "We've never had a state champion before. It's all anyone in town has been talking about."

Having two competitive championship matches was notable for more than simply piquing the interest of fans. Most believe wrestling is better off if the championship matches have a level of uncertainty.

"Parity is good in all sports, right?" asked Jeff Beshey, the owner and publisher of www.theguillotine.com, Minnesota's online wrestling bible. "To be honest, the Class 3A team finals had gotten kind of boring. Some people were turned off by the blowouts. This creates a little excitement."

By the end of the night, most fans went home happy but wanting more.

Kasson-Mantorville did indeed end Simley's run, but it needed a pair of forfeits to do so. And St. Michael-Albertville and Apple Valley tied, leaving them co-champions in Class 3A. Not the results fans were expecting, but enough to make it a worthwhile evening.

"It was great wrestling," Apple Valley coach Dalen Wasmund said. "People saw two great teams battling their hearts out."

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