First-year Shakopee coach Marcus LeVesseur. (submitted photo)
With everything Marcus LeVesseur has accomplished in his wrestling life — four Minnesota high school state championships, four NCAA Division III championships, an undefeated (155-0) college career, four-time Team USA selection, more than 30 victories as an MMA fighter — he admits to battling butterflies last fall before his first day as Shakopee wrestling coach.
That’s how he knew he was ready for the job.
LeVesseur was taking over for former coach Jim Jackson, the most successful wrestling coach in state history. Jackson stepped down last spring after shepherding the Sabers to back-to-back Class 3A state team championships, their first ever.
Replacing a prep coaching legend such as Jackson at the preeminent large-school program in the state?
“Absolutely, I was nervous,” said LeVesseur, who had been an assistant under Jackson for five seasons. “One of my first coaches, Rodney Wichern at Powderhorn Park, would go along with me to regional and national tournaments. Every once in awhile, he would ask me ‘Are you nervous?’ I would say ‘Yes, Coach, I am.’ He’d say ‘Good. That means you’re ready.’ I apply that to my life. If there’s a spark of nervousness there, I’m ready.”
Judging by the Sabers’ results this season, LeVesseur was more than ready. With the support of a cadre of capable assistant coaches — “Everything is about us, not about me,” LeVesseur said — Shakopee (24-0) goes into the Class 3A state tournament Thursday at St. Michael-Albertville High School as the top seed in the team competition.
While the transition from Jackson looked smooth to the untrained eye, LeVesseur said COVID-19 concerns turned many of his plans sideways. He’d been a head coach before, at Hopkins from 2012 through 2015, but this was a change of pace he didn’t expect.
“The very first day of practice in COVID environment, OMG,” LeVesseur said. “Everything was upside down. Restrictions and protocols and the daily separation with pods in practice, that was the biggest challenge.”
LeVesseur and his staff attacked it, developing a process for splitting practices in half and coaching and teaching smaller groups, or sub-pods. Success followed quickly.“I love challenges,” he said. “The bigger the challenge, the better version of me.”
The Class 3A tournament includes team and individual championships on Thursday, with Class 2A doing the same on Friday and Class 1A on Saturday.
Class 3A: At 132 pounds, the battle includes four-time state champion Reid Ballantyne of Stillwater, three-time state champ Derrick Cardinal of Forest Lake and undefeated Zach Hanson of Lakeville North. ... Undefeated Coon Rapids heavyweight Gavin Layton (29-0) is hoping to make up for a disappointing 2020 state tournament, when suffered his only loss of the season when he was surprisingly pinned with one second left in the first period of the finals ... A possible rematch for a state title looms at 120, where Lakeville North’s Jore Volk and St. Michael-Albertville’s Landon Robideau reside. Volk defeated Robideau in the 2020 106 pound finals.
Class 2A: Top-ranked Simley had 12 wrestlers qualify for the individual tournament. ... Simley heavyweight Bennett Tabor is on an 80-match winning streak. He went 50-0 in winning the 220 pound crown last year and is 30-0 this year. ... Other undefeated Simley wrestlers are Gavin Nelson, 220 (28-0), Quayin Short, 195 (30-0) and Reid Nelson, 120 (30-0). ... Kasson-Mantorville junior 182-pounder Bennett Berge is shooting for his fourth state title. Older brother Brady won four times between 2012 and 2017.
Class 1A: At 126, a showdown of 2020 state champs looms between Sibley East’s Derek Steele, who won at 113 last year, and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa’s Walker Bents, the defending 106 champ. ... Sibley East junior 132-pounder Drayton Morton is shooting for his third title. ... Four brackets in the higher weights feature 2020 state champs who are undefeated: Payton Handevidt, Jackson County Central, 152, 38-0; Mason Gode, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville, 160, 33-0; Tyson Meyer, Minnewaska, 182, 33-0; Dominik Vacura, Badger-Greenbush/Middle River, 220, 30-0.
Where: St. Michael-Albertville High School
Thursday: Class 3A team meet 9 a.m., individuals 2 p.m.
Friday: Class 2A team meet 9 a.m., individuals 2 p.m.
Saturday: Class 1A team meet 9 a.m., individuals 2 p.m.