Lucky seven

metro teams to watch

Apple Valley: Let's look at the numbers. Thirty-five consecutive state tournament appearances. Twelve consecutive Class 3A state championships. Ten wrestlers ranked in the top 10 of their weight class, one considered the best high school wrestler in the nation (Gable Steveson). And a new head coach, Josh Barlage, to pull it all together. How can you not talk about Apple Valley?

Anoka: The Tornadoes have a few holes to fill if they want to duplicate last season, when they finished as Class 3A runner-up to Apple Valley after holding a 24-20 lead going into the last two matches of the final. And there's still plenty to like. Defending state champ Tyler Eischens is back at 152, heading up a potent run of talent in the middle weights.

St. Michael-Albertville: There are a few more question marks than usual in the Knights' lineup, but they more than make up for it with want-to, as evidenced by their final-round charge to overtake Forest Lake and win the St. Michael-Albertville Invitational on Dec. 2. And, of course, there are automatic points whenever 132-pounder Patrick McKee steps onto the mat.

Shakopee: The Sabers nearly ended Apple Valley's run of state tournament appearances last year, falling just short in the section final. They lost some big guns (Aaron Cashman, Brent Jones and Alex Crowe graduated, Carson Manville left for Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania) but there's a growing talent pool, led by two-time state champion Alex Lloyd, for Jim Jackson to coach.

Prior Lake: The Lakers had a string of five consecutive state meet trips broken in 2016 and, competing with Apple Valley and Shakopee in Section 2 of Class 3A, it's likely another state meet appearance is a long way off. Too bad, because they have gritty, talented wrestlers throughout the lineup, led by 170-pound Kenny O'Neil, the defending 160-pound state champion.

Simley (Class 2A): The Spartans and Kasson-Mantorville have had a tug-of-war for the Class 2A title, with Simley winning in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and the KoMets in 2013, 2016 and 2017. They are again atop the state rankings. Simley, with three returning state champs in Jake Gliva, Anthony Jackson and Daniel Kerkvliet, looks primed to get the crown back.

Scott West (2A): The Panthers have been the third-best team in Class 2A for the better part of a decade, yet haven't been able to surpass the two heavyweights in front of them. The Panthers made a statement Friday by defeating Anoka on criteria — after a 28-all tie — because of a misconduct penalty on Anoka.

Others of note: Forest Lake, Cambridge-Isanti, Waconia (2A)

Jim Paulsen