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National powers now look up to Apple Valley at No. 1

January 10th, 2011 by Tom

The Eagles handled a traditionally strong Florida team to claim the title in the prestigious Clash.

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune

ROCHESTER - It's repeated so often that it would be difficult for even the most cynical of souls to dispute it. It's Apple Valley's mantra, nothing special or overly clever, but it carries a weight of its own

"We work harder than anybody else, "Apple Valley senior Matt Kelliher said. "That's what we always say. No team is going to work harder than us."

That work ethic, which has paid off in 18 state championships, was evident Saturday as the Eagles won the championship bracket of The Clash Duals wrestling meet at the University Center in Rochester.

More importantly, Apple Valley's victory virtually assured the Eagles of the first undisputed national high school wrestling championship in Minnesota history. And they did it in style, beating perhaps the most legendary high school wrestling program in the country, Brandon, Fla., 34-16 in the finals.

The national title is determined by the voting in three national polls, released by the Amateur Wrestling News, Intermat.com and theopenmat.com.

While no official national champion is crowned, Apple Valley is the unanimous selection at No. 1 in all three rankings. The Eagles' victory in the Clash -- their fourth consecutive title in the most prestigious dual-meet event in the nation -- concludes the national portion of their schedule. Clearly a cut, or even two, above the rest of the Class 3A field, it would take the unthinkable for Apple Valley to fail to win its sixth state championship in a row.

"We just have to finish is out, "Apple Valley coach Jim Jackson said. "We have to win the state championship."

The Clash final may have been the most anticipated showdown in the meet's nine-year history. Brandon has long been considered the Babe Ruth of prep wrestling, a program that won 459 consecutive matches between 1974 and 2008. Brandon's streak stands as the longest winning streak any U.S. high school team has produced. It even was the topic of an ESPN documentary titled "The Streak."

It was the prospect of facing Apple Valley that lured Brandon to Minnesota in the dead of winter.

"We wanted a shot at Apple Valley, but they were better than us today, "Brandon coach Russ Cozart said. "Apple Valley deserved to be No. 1. That's a very solid, very aggressive team."

Being ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 4 in the nation, depending on what poll is doing the ranking, Brandon was looked upon as perhaps the only team in the country that could give Apple Valley a battle. It was just such a prospect that drove the Eagles.

"This is what we've been preparing for all season, "said junior 140-pounder Brandon Kingsley. "I've been wrestling in the Apple Valley program for 12 or 13 years and this is the best team I've ever been on."

Kingsley got the Eagles' championship quest started by pinning Giovanni Dudley in the first minute of their 140-pound match, giving Apple Valley a quick 6-0 lead.

The Eagles expanded their margin gradually, winning four consecutive decisions from 145 pound to 171 pounds, building up an insurmountable 18-0 lead before Brandon finally got on the board with a victory at 189.

The remainder of the match was basically a foregone conclusion as Apple Valley built its lead on the strength of its lower weights.

"This means a lot to our program, "Jackson said. "It means al lot to our coaches and the people involved with the programs. And it justifies all of the work we put in in the offseason. We always say we work harder than anyone else. Who really knows if we actually do? But the kids believe it and it the kids believe it, that's all that matters."