Expectations remain high for the Shakopee wrestling team.
The perennial power Sabers return six state qualifiers — seniors Jadon Hellerud, AJ Smith and Leo Tukhlynovych, sophomores Kyle Linville and Tyler Turzinski and ninth grader Kyler Walters — from last year’s squad that finished 28-5 overall, won the Section 6AAA crown and finished third at state.
Second-year coach Alex Van Krevelen said the goal for the team this season is to get back to the state tournament and make the championship match again.
“A lot of people around the Minnesota wrestling community think Shakopee’s time of domination has run its course,” Van Krevelen said. “For those close to the program, they know that our young hungry group are busting their butts and ready to prove to our supporters that were still here.”
The Sabers were in the state title match four straight years from 2018 to 2021, winning three straight championships (2019, 2022, 2021).
In The Guillotine’s preseason Class 3A rankings, Shakopee was ranked No. 10, which is the lowest the program has been ranked in the last seven preseason polls.
Three Section 6AAA teams are ranked in the top 12 with Waconia at No. 5 and Eden Prairie at No. 11. St. Michael-Albertville opens the season ranked No. 1, followed by No. 2 Hastings, No. 3 Stillwater Area and No. 4 Northfield.
“Our section is going to be tough this year,” Van Krevelen said. “Waconia puts together a tremendous team every season and we know they have their eyes set on the state tournament. Eden Prairie also has a crew of new kids in their lineup that will help them compete for the section title as well.
“Having both those teams in our section is tough, but I believe we are up for the challenge,” Krevelen added.
The Sabers have five wrestlers ranked in the 14 weights, starting with Hellerud, who opens the season ranked No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds. Smith is No. 3 at 120, while Tukhlynovych is No. 4 at 160.
Turzinski and Walters are both ranked No. 6 at 113 and 126 pounds, respectively.
Hellerud was the state runner-up last year at 195 pounds, finishing the season with a 21-4 record. He was fourth at state at 182 pounds as a sophomore.
Tukhlynovych was fourth at state last year at 145 pounds, finishing with a 48-9 record. Smith finished fifth at state last year at 126 pounds, ending the season with a 33-9 mark.
Turzinski, Walters and Linville did not place at state last year, competing at 106, 113 and 120 pounds, respectively. Turzinski finished the year with a 44-10 mark, while Walters was 43-9 and Linville finished 34-13.
Van Krevelen also expects senior Tim Lacina, juniors Ben Suchta and Jack Ferguson and ninth grader Calvin Miller to be a part of the team’s lineup.
“I believe our strength as a team is our team’s willingness to to outwork everyone,” Van Krevelen said. “From morning lifts to hard practices, our wrestlers never complain. They have fallen in love with the grind and I think that sets us apart from a lot of teams in Minnesota.”
In the South Suburban Conference, Shakopee will seeking a seventh straight title. The Sabers go into the season having won 58 straight league duals, going 9-0 last year.
The last SSC loss for the Sabers was in January of 2016 when they fell 46-15 to Apple Valley.
And Apple Valley looks to be Shakopee’s biggest threat to another conference crown. The Eagles are ranked No. 6 in the state in the preseason rankings.
Prior Lake and Eastview will also be teams to watch in the SSC.
Shakopee’s first SSC match is Dec. 15 at home versus Burnsville. The Sabers will get Apple Valley on the road Dec. 21.
The Section 6AAA team tournament will be held Feb. 17 at Eden Prairie. The individual section tourney is set for Feb. 24-25 in Edina.
This year’s Class 3A state tournament will be March 2-4 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. St. Michael-Albertville is the defending champion.
The team tournament is the first day, followed by the individual competition the next two days.