The key to Simley wrestling's success, according to team head coach and school athletic director Will Short, is athletes.
The Spartans have won 14 team championships since 1987 and have been runners-up another seven times.
It's a way of life at the Inver Grove Heights school, carrying a level of prestige similar to basketball at Hopkins or hockey at Edina. At Simley, wrestling is a glamorous pursuit.
The Spartans won that 14th title in March at St. Michael-Albertville High School, defeating Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield 68-6 in the Class 2A final.
The victory felt special. The lineup had no weaknesses. Twelve wrestlers qualified for the individual competition in the state tournament and six of them took home championship medals. They didn't lose a meet throughout the pandemic-shortened season, winning 29 straight duals.
And the Spartans didn't just win. They overwhelmed foes. They scored 50 points or more in all but one meet, a 42-19 victory over Stillwater, a team that spent part of the season ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. Simley shut out nine opponents.
A strong case could be made that Simley was the nation's best public school team this year. The Spartans finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation according to wrestling websites, behind Wyoming (Pa.) Seminary Prep.
So, what made Simley, the Star Tribune All-Metro Boys' Team of the Year, so good this year? Hard work was a given. "Try finding a wrestling team that doesn't work hard," Short said.
Team bonding? Most good teams have that in spades. Dedication? That's part of it, too.
So what set Simley apart?
"Not only were a lot of them full-time wrestlers, but all of them were pretty good athletes," Short replied. "When you have a combination of really good athletes who you know are wrestling year-round, you're going to be very good."
Short said he saw this team coming years ago. "I knew for a while that this group of kids were coming into our program," he said. "They were very good in seventh and eighth grades."
Once in high school, their skills stood out immediately, helping Simley win the two Class 2A titles before this year.
The biggest issue was getting this year's team to reach its potential. He considered just stepping back and trying not to get in the way, but the influence of COVID-19 and its restrictions nixed that idea.
"I challenged the guys and told them we were going to be a team on a mission," said Short, adding that he pushed them harder than he had before. "We hit the gas pedal right away."
The Spartans focused on "high percentage techniques," emphasizing "scoring as many points as we can in six minutes," Short said. "It produced some really great performances on the mat."
It didn't hurt that Simley's logo on the front of their team singlets is a large red "S," reminiscent of a certain superhero.
"The kids talk about the red "S" a lot," Short said. "There's a mentality that goes along with it. There's a standard they feel they have to live up to."
Simley wrestling roster, 2021 season