For a few short moments Friday, both of St. Michael-Albertville’s McKee brothers, Mitchell, a junior 126-pounder, and Patrick, an eighth-grade 106-pounder, were wrestling in the Class 3A quarterfinals simultaneously on adjacent mats at Xcel Energy Center. After Mitchell had defeated Lakeville North’s Wade Sullivan 13-1 in a battle of defending champs (McKee at 120, Sullivan at 113), he was told his brother had wrestled next to him.
“How’d he do?” McKee asked, forgetting for a moment his own match. When told Patrick had lost to Eagan’s Sodan Ka 5-3, his face dropped. “Aw, he had a tough kid.”
Last year, Mitchell won his first state title in front of his father, Steve, who had set aside treatment for cancer to watch his son wrestle. Steve succumbed to the disease in December, forcing Mitchell to take on a larger role in his younger brother’s development.
“I try to lead him in the right direction in everything we do: wrestling, school, anything. Any free time I have, I try to use to mentor him and give him advice.”
James Pleski’s face was a mess — redness and swelling above both eyebrows, blood staining his teeth, scratches everywhere. Even smiling hurt, but the smile — more of a grimace, actually — was obvious. The Forest Lake senior had battled Apple Valley’s Brock Morgan for four overtimes in the Class 3A 145-pound quarterfinals to a 2-2 tie, but Pleski won the marathon on criteria when Morgan could not escape in the fourth extra session, moving on to Saturday’s semifinals.
“I’m relieved,” Pleski said. “He was trying to slow things down and I was the aggressor. I just had to keep battling, keep fighting.”
Pleski woke up Friday knowing it would be a tough day. Ranked No. 1 at his weight in Class 3A, he had to beat Farmington’s Taylor Venz, ranked No. 2, in the first round before surviving Morgan, who was No. 3, in the quarterfinals.
“I knew my first day here would be really tough,” Pleski said. “I thought if I get through this, it might get a little smoother tomorrow.”
Standing in the tunnels below the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Pleski had no idea his face had taken such a beating.
“I don’t know when this all happened,” he said. “Must have been in that last match.”
Two mat careers ending
For Prior Lake’s Alex Hart and Lakeville North’s Tristyn Hanson, Saturday will mark the end of their wrestling careers.
Hart, the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in Class 3A, and Hanson, ranked No. 2 at 195 pounds, advanced to the semifinals in convincing fashion, neither facing a serious threat in either of his matches. But, for both, Saturday will be the last day they take the mat. Next year, they will be college linebackers, Hart for New Mexico, Hanson for Air Force.
“I’ve wrestled ever since I was little, so it will be tough to give it up,” said Hart, the defending 220-pound champion. “But I’m wrestling the best I ever have right now, so hopefully that will continue.”
Hanson, who made a remarkable recovery from a severely broken ankle suffered in football to return to the team in the playoffs, said that he, too, is peaking at the right time. “I’ve been working my [rear end] off and I’m going to keep doing that,” he said.
Champions roll on
Sullivan was the only defending champion to lose Friday. The other 2014 champions in the field — Shakopee’s Brent Jones (120), McKee (126), Shakopee’s Owen Webster (160), Apple Valley’s Mark Hall (170) and Bobby Steveson (195) and Hart (heavyweight) — advanced to the semifinals.