High School Wrestling

2020 Minnesota’s #1 Preview


photos courtesy of Jeff Beshey; TheGuillotine.com

With a high school wrestling season full of uncertainty on the horizon, it’s good to celebrate the glimpses of normalcy that pop up. Looking around the country, main state associations have already moved their wrestling seasons or still may cancel them altogether. The void left by those changes to the schedule has allowed for other events to pop up on the wrestling calendar. One of those is Minnesota’s #1, which takes place on Saturday. 

Minnesota’s #1 is a 17-match dual meet that pits some of the state’s top high schoolers against each other. Organized by the Al and Josh Show podcast, the event features a handful of intriguing bouts between wrestlers with excellent in-state and national-level credentials. The podcast had a Twitter poll allowing fans to choose the main event, with four choices being provided, all of which were high-quality. Before getting to that match between one of the state’s top sophomore and top senior, we’ll give some background information on all of the participants.

How to Watch: TrackWrestling

When: August 29th; 4pm Central

Parker Lyden (Forest Lake) vs. Brandon Morvari (Simley)

We start with a matchup between a pair of young, impact lightweights. Parker Lyden was behind a senior, state placewinner in 2019-20, so he didn’t compete in the postseason. He did take second place in freestyle in the state meet at the Schoolboy level in March. Brandon Morvari was in a similar situation last season, as he had a state finalist at 106 in front of him in the lineup. These two ended up meeting last season in the MNGWL State tournament semifinals with Morvari getting the win, 2-0. He was second while Lyden was third. 

Tyson Meyer (Minnewaska Area) vs. Hunter Lyden (Stillwater Area)

Here’s our first battle between returning state champions. Tyson Meyer is a two-time state champion at the A level and the first in school history. He grabbed his most recent title at 170 lbs and suffered only a single loss during the 2019-20 campaign. Opposing Meyer is Hunter Lyden, who claimed his first championships as a sophomore last season. Lyden was a 16U freestyle All-American (6th) last summer in Fargo and earned a spot on TOM’s HS All-Sophomore team in 2020. We’ll see if the size is an issue as Lyden competed last season at 152 lbs. 

Roman Rogotzke (Stillwater Area) vs. Gabe Nagel (Little Falls)

In only the third match, we have a meeting between a pair of wrestlers that have already committed to wrestle at DI programs next year. Roman Rogotzke is set to wrestle for South Dakota State, while Gabe Nagel has pledged to stay in-state and compete for Minnesota. Roman was a AAA state champion at 182 lbs last year, which was his first time on the state podium. Nagel made the AAA finals at 170 lbs, before losing his only bout of the year, in sudden victory. 

Payton Handevidt (Jackson County Central) vs. Cael Swensen (Wayzata)

Another future South Dakota State Jackrabbit will be in action in the next match, as Cael Swensen takes on Payton Handevidt. It’s a battle of small school vs big school, since Swensen was a AAA state champion in 2020, while Handevidt won his title at 145 lbs in the A tournament. Handevidt is a junior that has now placed twice at the state tournament. Since wrestling has resumed this summer, Swensen has excellent, winning 19 of 20 bouts at the Iron Man and the King of the Ring Duals. 

Tyler Wells (Princeton) vs. Blake West (Shakopee)

In one of the top matches of the entire event, another pair of state champions will square-off when Tyler Wells meets Blake West. The two combined to win 98 of 99 matches in 2019-20, with Wells finishing the year unbeaten and a AA champ at 106 lbs. Tyler went through his entire freshman season without having an opponent hold him to a regular decision. Not only did West win a state title last year, he came into the year riding the momentum of an offseason that saw him make the Junior freestyle finals in Fargo and at Preseason Nationals. Blake has taken a few losses recently while competing up at 120 lbs.  

Dominik Vacura (Badger/Greenbush-Middle River) vs. Bennett Tabor (Simley)

Another pair of DI commits that are set to do battle are Dominik Vacura and Bennett Tabor. Bennett will join Nagel in Minneapolis as a Gopher, while Dominik Vacura will wrestle for former Minnesota star Roger Kish at North Dakota State. Both Vacura and Tabor were state champs in 2020, with Tabor winning the AA tournament and Vacura at A. Like the previous match, the two combined for only a single loss during their junior seasons, with Tabor going 50-0 and Vacura 52-1. The pair also have strong national-level credentials under their belts, as Tabor was fourth at the 2019 Super 32 and fifth in U16 Freestyle the same year. Vacura with fifth in both styles in Fargo, as a Cadet, in 2018.  

Derek Steele (Sibley East) vs. Walker Bents (Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa)

Here’s a small-school showdown as 2020 106 A state champion Walker Bents takes on the 113 A champ, Derek Steele. Bents is a junior that finished third in the state in 2018, while Steele moved up one spot on the podium from his 2019 finish. These two met in the regular season last year with Steele picking up the win in dual meet action. Bents competed primarily at 113 lbs, before dropping down to 106 for the individual postseason tournaments where he came away with the gold. 

Logan Swensen (Wayzata) vs. Alan Koehler (Prior Lake)

These are two young lightweights that have had success outside of the high school season and are looking to build on that momentum. Logan Swensen is an incoming freshman who has captured titles at AAU Winter Nationals, MNGWL States, and Minnesota’s 16U freestyle, all in 2020. He’ll face Alan Koehler, a double 16U All-American last year in Fargo, highlighted by a final appearance in freestyle. That came at 88 lbs and certainly, size may have been an issue for Alan as he was unable to qualify for the state tournament as a freshman. 

Ngao Shoua Whitehorn (Dover-Eyota) vs. Skylar Little Soldier (Hastings)

The first of two girls matches pits Ngao Shoua Whitehorn against Skylar Little Soldier. Both were recently teammates at the Iron Man Duals with Whitehorn handling duties at 127 lbs, while Little Soldier was at 132. Whitehorn was 3-0 and pinned or teched all of her opponents. Little Soldier went 3-1. She also was a Minnesota girls state champion in folkstyle this year and competed at the Grand River Rumble, where she finished 5-2 against some excellent competition. 

Nina Makem (Shakopee) vs. Ella Pagel (Northfield)

The second girl’s match of the card features 2019 Minnesota state placewinner Nina Makem against Ella Pagel. Makem also participated in July’s Iron Man Duals. As did Pagel, who also won a title this summer at the Grand River Rumble in freestyle and was a runner-up in folkstyle. Ella was also a folkstyle champion at the Schoolgirl level back in March. 

Maxwell Petersen (Byron) vs. Austin Gabbert (Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran)

A pair of 2020 state finalists will clash here with Maxwell Petersen and Austin Gabbert. Peterson was the AA runner-up at 120, while Gabbert accomplished the same feat at 126. Petersen is a three-time state finalist, who won a title in 2018, as an eighth-grader, but has been second twice since. Two of Maxwell’s three 2019-20 losses came to his state finals opponent, a three-time champ. Gabbert was fifth twice before making the 2020 finals. These two were in the same state weight class in 2018 and 2019, but did not meet at either state tournament. 

Drayden Morton (Sibley East) vs. Jaxson Rohman (Fairmont/Martin County West)

Another pair of state champions will go at it here with Drayden Morton and Jaxson Rohman. Morton already has won two A state titles, the most recent coming in 2020 at 120 lbs. Rohman was a AA champ in 2018 at 113 lbs as a freshman. Since then, he’s placed second and third. Jaxson looked poised to claim his second state title in 2020, as he was undefeated heading into the state tournament. At the state team event, Rohman picked up a win over the eventual champion, Chase DeBlaere. Unfortunately, he was upset in the semifinals by Austin Gabbert. 

Jore Volk (Lakeville North) vs. Christian Noble (Big Lake)

One of the possible main events is this match between lower-weight state champions Jore Volk and Christian Noble. Volk, a two-time state finalist, was a double national champion at the 16U level in Fargo and placed four times out there. Jore’s only loss of the 2019-20 campaign came at the Sectional tournament to an opponent he defeated earlier in the season. Even though he was a 106 lber last season, Volk has recently been competing up at 126. Noble is a junior that won a AA title at 113 last season after taking third as a freshman. To make the state finals, Christian had to get by 2018 Fargo Cadet double champion, Mason Gehloff. Once in the championship bout, Noble registered a major decision to finish his sophomore year unbeaten. 

Jude Link (Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield) vs. Landen Johnson (Owatonna)

We’ve already mentioned Hunter Lyden, but Minnesota has an excellent triumvirate of juniors who competed at 152 lbs in 2020. The other two meet here with Jude Link and Landen Johnson. The only two losses that Link suffered during his sophomore year came to his state finals opponent, the last coming by way of a 3-2 decision. Jude had a breakout tournament last year while in North Dakota at the Rumble on the Red, where he emerged victorious over a challenging field. Johnson was a runner-up to Lyden at the state meet, in their second match of the year. Landen got the win in round one when he took home the title at the Minnesota Christmas Tournament. 

Gavin Layton (Coon Rapids) vs. Tommy Johnson (Shakopee)

Minnesota’s always been a state known for its big men and here we have two good ones. 2020 AAA state runner-up Gavin Layton will take on AAA third-place finisher Tommy Johnson. Layton was at 285 lbs last year, while Johnson was at 220. Gavin is a four-time 16U All-American in Fargo and rolled into the 2020 state finals unbeaten. He ended up falling to an opponent he had defeated twice that same season. Johnson is a two-time state placer that narrowly missed out on a state finals appearance after a tiebreaker loss in the quarterfinals. 

Chase DeBlaere (Simley) vs. Derrick Cardinal (Forest Lake)

The co-main event features an excellent bout between one of the state’s top juniors (Chase DeBlaere) and top seniors (Derrick Cardinal). DeBlaere is a two-time state champion whose most recent title came in a weight class that contained a pair of MN #1 participants (Gabbert and Rohman). Chase was also a sixth-place finisher in the freestyle portion of the 2019 Cadet World Team Trials and a 2020 champion at Wisconsin’s Cheesehead Invitational. Cardinal is looking to become a four-time state champion in 2020-21, after winning last year at the 126 AAA tournament. Derrick was fifth in Fargo’s 16U freestyle tournament in 2019 and won a title at the Minnesota Christmas Tournament. There he needed to defeat an opponent that had downed DeBlaere in the semifinals. 

Max McEnelly (Waconia) vs. Quayin Short (Simley)
As voted on by the fans, this is the main event. Super sophomore Max McEnelly will battled decorated senior Quayin Short. Though Short was a Cadet national champion in freestyle in 2018, a Super 32 and Cadet WTT’s placer before last season, he’s still looking to collect his first state title. As a junior, Quayin was blocked by one of the top wrestlers in the Class of 2020, Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy was responsible for two of Short’s three losses on the season. Still, during his junior season, Short won the Cliff Keen Independence Invitational, the Minnesota Christmas Tournament, and was a runner-up at the Cheesehead. McEnelly was the rare freshman who won a state title at the 170 lb weight class in 2020, which he accomplished by downing Minnesota-recruit, Gabe Nagel. Max navigated through his freshman year with only one loss. That occurred in the finals of the Minnesota Christmas Tournament. That helped McEnelly earn a spot on TOM’s HS All-Freshman Team following the 2019-20 season.

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