World champs Steveson, Kerkvliet expected to face each other Friday night
One of the most anticipated matches of the Minnesota high school wrestling season – and one that couldn’t take place at the state tournament – is scheduled Friday evening at Simley High School.
On the large scale, the match between Apple Valley (ranked first in Class 3A) and Simley (ranked second in Class 2A) would be enticing enough for the sport’s followers. But they might be even more interested in the match within the match. Two world champions, Apple Valley’s Gable Steveson and Simley’s Daniel Kerkvliet, are expected to face each other in the heavyweight match. Steveson won the 264-pound weight class at the Junior World Championships last summer, and his victory also gave the United States the team championship. The previous two years, Steveson won Cadet World titles.
Kerkvliet is a reigning Cadet World champion.
While that match isn’t necessarily carved in granite – wrestling coaches can juggle lineups while a dual meet is in progress – all signs indicate the Steveson-Kerkvliet showdown will happen. Consider Apple Valley coach Josh Barlage’s Twitter account (@JoshuaBarlage), which on Monday proclaimed, “IT’S GOING DOWN!!” accompanied by a photo of the two wrestlers.
“It’s a big stage, a big night for us,” Barlage said Wednesday, “but our kids are used to those situations.”
It’s the only time Steveson and Kerkvliet will face each other this season, as they compete in different enrollment classes in the postseason. Steveson is a three-time state high school champion and won the 285-pound Class 3A title the last two years. Kerkvliet was the Class 2A champion at 195 last season and has won two state titles overall.
This year, Steveson is ranked first nationally by InterMat at 285 and Kerkvliet is second at 220. Steveson signed to wrestle at the University of Minnesota. Kerkvliet verbally committed to Minnesota but changed his mind and signed with Oklahoma State.
Kerkvliet was 41-0 this season entering this week’s action. Steveson is 24-0 with 23 pins. One wrestler from a Wisconsin high school went the distance with Steveson during a tournament in early January.
Another marquee match at the Apple Valley-Simley dual could take place at 132 if Sebas Swiggum of the Eagles meets Jake Gliva. Gliva is a two-time Class 2A champion at 126 and Swiggum is a two-time Class 3A qualifier.
“Sebas beat Gliva at the Christmas tournament (in December) and it was a close match,” Barlage said. “If they face each other Friday, it’ll be another good match because they’re both hard-nosed kids.”
Apple Valley also expects to be at full strength for the Simley match with the return of Adam Mickelson to the lineup. Mickelson, ranked fifth in Class 3A at 120, has missed time because of injuries and his absence was felt in a 32-30 loss at Shakopee on Jan. 25. That loss probably will prevent the Eagles from winning the South Suburban Conference championship.
In the Shakopee match, Apple Valley had victories from Peyton McLagan at 126, Swiggum at 132, Brady Gross at 138, Nate Larson at 160 and Tony Watts at 182. Shakopee won one match by one point and two more by two points. The third-ranked Sabers, coached by former AVHS head coach Jim Jackson, held an eight-point lead going into the heavyweight match, meaning Steveson’s victory by fall in 12 seconds couldn’t flip the team outcome.
The Eagles are home against Rosemount at 7 p.m. Thursday, travel to Simley on Friday and will go to the Cretin-Derham Hall Duals at 9 a.m. Saturday. They close the regular season at home against Prior Lake on Thursday, Feb. 8. The Class 3A, Section 2 team tournament, and a possible rematch with Shakopee, will be Feb. 16 at Lakeville North High School.