They're the two most high-profile wrestlers in the state and soon-to-be-teammates. And the similarities between Waconia's Max McEnelly and Simley's Gavin Nelson don't stop there.
McEnelly, a senior, is a three-time Class 3A state champion, at 170 pounds (2020), 182 (2021) and 195 (2022). He hasn't lost a high school match since 2020. He has a cumulative record of 138-1 during that span. He's developed a national reputation, having won titles at the regional and national levels and finished third at the U17 world championships at 92 kilograms in Rome last summer.
Nelson is a senior two-time Class 2A state champion at 220 pounds, posting an 88-2 record over that two-year span. He's also gained a national and international following, having finished fifth at 92 kg in the Cadet division in the world championships.
Both are strong, quick and dominant, both played running back for their high school football teams (Simley will play in Class 4A state championship game in Friday's Prep Bowl) and both soon will be teammates at the University of Minnesota.
One thing that hasn't happened often: They've never seriously met on the mat.
"We haven't really wrestled," Nelson admitted earlier this fall. "We're buddies."
While there is no scheduled match between Simley and Waconia — and even if there were, there's no guarantee McEnelly and Nelson would square off — there is a possibility they could meet in an invitational or a summer tournament. After that, however, the best chance they could go up against each other is in the University of Minnesota wrestling room.
St. Michael-Albertville repeat?
Like most individual sports that have adopted a team concept, wrestling lends itself to multiple championships.
Apple Valley has won 25 team titles. Simley, 15. Guess who's third on the list in team championships? After taking the top spot in Class 3A last season, St. Michael-Albertville now has nine, breaking a tie with the now-defunct Robbinsdale High School and Canby High School.
There's a strong possibility that St. Michael-Albertville could reach double-digits this season. The Knights are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by the Guillotine wrestling website and feature 10 wrestlers in the top 10 in their weight class. Three of them are ranked No. 1: Mason Mills (120) and Landon Robideau (132), both returning state champs, and Jed Wester (170), who has back-to-back runner-up finishes at the state meet.
In Class 2A, Simley, led by a couple of standouts in the uppermost weights: Nelson (220), and Soren Herzog (heavyweight) is likely to win its fifth state title in a row.
In Class 1A, things are more wide open. Any of a handful of teams that include defending champ Jackson County Central, Royalton/Upsala, West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville, Dover-Eyota and Kimball could win it all.
Girls have returning champs, too
The first girls' state tournament last season was, by all accounts, a resounding success. This season, nine of the 12 state champions are back looking to defend their championships.
The addition of the girls portion to the state tournament added an interesting family dynamic to the wrestling scene. Simley's Charli Raymond, who won at 100 pounds as a seventh-grader last year, has an older brother, Cash, who was third in Class 2A at 138 pounds a year ago. And then there's Stillwater's wrestling-mad Rogotzke family. Audrey was an eighth-grader when she took the 120 title in 2022. Older brother Ryder won the Class 3A 182-pound championship soon after Audrey's victory. Ryder set a state record for falls (pins) in a single season last year with 44.
Two other defending champs are considered among the best in the nation. Hastings junior Skylar Little Soldier, the 132-pound champ, is 10th in the nation in the pound-for-pound (P4P) rankings put out by Flowrestling.org, while Northfield sophomore Ella Pagel, the 165-pound titlist, is 13th in the P4P rankings.