The 35th MatBoss Minnesota Christmas Tournament gets underway Friday in Rochester, Minn.
The MatBoss Minnesota Christmas Tournament is Minnesota's premier in-season high school wrestling event. The tournament has a rich history with many past participants going on to achieve success at the highest levels of college and international wrestling.
Brandon Paulson (Anoka), a 1996 Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman, won titles in 1989 and 1990. Olympic champion Gable Steveson claimed three Minnesota Christmas Tournament titles. Mark Hall (Apple Valley), a three-time NCAA finalist and 2017 NCAA champion for Penn State, holds the record for the most Minnesota Christmas Tournament titles with six. Brady Berge (Kasson-Mantorville), a three-time NCAA qualifier for Penn State, captured five titles.
Twin brothers Troy and Terry Steiner (Century, N.D.), both NCAA champions at the University of Iowa, competed in the inaugural event in 1987 and won titles at 119 pounds and 126 pounds respectively.
Two collegiate wrestlers from Penn State currently ranked No. 1 by The Open Mat, Roman Bravo-Young (Sunnyside) and Greg Kerkvliet (Simley), are past Minnesota Christmas Tournament champions.
The two-day event is hosted by the Gopher Wrestling Club, with proceeds directly supporting GWC athletes. MatBoss, the sport's premier videostats app, is serving as the event's title sponsor.
Thirty-four high school wrestling teams in three states will compete in this year's event, headlined by a pair of nationally ranked programs, No. 20 Simley and No. 37 St. Michael-Albertville. The field is comprised of 28 Minnesota teams, five Wisconsin teams and one South Dakota team.
The 14 weight classes are loaded with state champions, state placewinners and state qualifiers.
Action gets underway Friday at noon CT. The event will be streamed live on FloWrestling on Friday and Saturday.
Below are five storylines to watch at the 2022 MatBoss Minnesota Christmas Tournament.
Note: National high school wrestling rankings referenced are from MatScouts, while Minnesota rankings are from The Guillotine.
Six returning Minnesota Christmas Tournament champions are expected to be in this year's event. Returning champions include Brandon Morvari (Simley), Ben Bast (West Bend, Wis.), Landon Robideau (St. Michael-Albertville), Koy Buesgens (New Prague), Max McEnelly (Waconia) and Gavin Nelson (Simley).
Morvari, a returning state champion and double All-American in Fargo, won the Minnesota Christmas Tournament title at 106 pounds last season, edging Blake Beissel (Hastings) 3-2 in the finals. He will compete at 120 pounds this year. Morvari recently committed to the University of Illinois.
Bast, a 2021 Wisconsin state champion, earned a Minnesota Christmas Tournament title last season by blanking Mason Mills (St. Michael-Albertville) 6-0 in the finals at 113 pounds. Like Morvari, Bast will compete at 120 pounds.
Robideau, a 2022 state champion and three-time state finalist, returns in search of back-to-back titles. He dominated at last year's Minnesota Christmas Tournament, earning bonus-point victories in all five of his matches at 126 pounds, including his finals match, which he won by technical fall over Matt Randolph (Scott West). The University of Minnesota commit will compete at 132 pounds.
Buesgens, a two-time state champion and North Carolina State signee, topped Kaukauna's Greyson Clark in the finals at 138 pounds last year. He will compete at 145 pounds this weekend.
McEnelly, a three-time state champion and bronze medalist at the 2022 U17 World Championships in freestyle, was untested at last year's event, earning bonus points in all four of his victories at 195 pounds, including his finals match, which he won by technical fall over Soren Herzog (Simley). He will compete again at 195 pounds. McEnelly signed with the University of Minnesota and is currently ranked No. 14 in MatScouts' pound-for-pound national rankings.
Nelson, also a University of Minnesota signee, will look to repeat as champion at 220 pounds. He defeated Columbia commit Vincent Mueller (St. Thomas Academy) 8-3 in the finals last year. Nelson is a two-time state champion and four-time state placewinner.
Two other 2021 champions eligible to compete, Alan Koehler (Prior Lake) and Navarro Schunke (Brandon Valley, S.D.) will not compete in this year's event.
Every year when the brackets are released for the Minnesota Christmas Tournament wrestling fans highlight potential showdowns they hope to see. Sometimes the matchups materialize. Other times upsets or injuries prevent a highly-anticipated matchup from happening. Let's examine a three of the most highly-anticipated matchups at this year's event.
120: Brandon Morvari (Simley) vs. Ben Bast (West Bend, Wis.)
A battle of returning Minnesota Christmas Tournament champions. Morvari won at 106 pounds, while Bast won at 113 pounds. Both are state champions.
182: Ryder Rogotzke (Stillwater Area, Minn.) vs. Connor Mirasola (West Bend, Wis.)
A showdown of two of the nation's top 182-pounders. Rogotzke is ranked No. 1 nationally, while Mirasola is No. 3. The two wrestlers met for third place at last year's Minnesota Christmas Tournament, with Rogotzke winning by pin.
195: Max McEnelly (Waconia) vs. Cole Mirasola (West Bend, Wis.)
A battle of two wrestlers ranked in the top five nationally at 195 pounds. McEnelly is ranked No. 2, while Mirasola is ranked fifth. The two wrestlers battled each other in the semifinals of last year's Minnesota Christmas Tournament, with McEnelly cruising to a 23-12 major decision. The weight class also includes a couple other nationally ranked wrestlers. Cole Han-Lindemyer (Farmington), a U17 Greco-Roman world team member who is ranked No. 8 nationally, and two-time state finalist Joey Novak (New Prague), ranked No. 11 nationally, will look to spoil the potential showdown between McEnelly and Mirasola.
A pair of nationally ranked teams, St. Michael-Albertville and Simley, enter the event as the frontrunners to win the team title. Both teams are ranked No. 1 in the state in different classes. In addition, both have 11 wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in Minnesota by The Guillotine. Three St. Michael-Albertville wrestlers are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes: Mason Mills (120), Landon Robideau (132) and Jed Wester (170). The Knights won the team title in Rochester last year by 22 points. Seven St. Michael-Albertville wrestlers finished in the top four in their respective weight classes, with two winning titles. Simley is led by returning champions Morvari and Nelson and had seven placewinners in this event a year ago. The Spartans won back-to-back Minnesota Christmas Tournament titles in 2018 and 2019, and also won a team title in 1988.
In addition to St. Michael-Albertville and Simley, 12 other Minnesota teams competing are ranked in the top 12 by The Guillotine. Those teams include No. 2 (AAA) Stillwater Area, No. 3 (AAA) Waconia, No. 3 (AA) New Prague, No. 4 (AAA) Eden Prairie, No. 4 (AA) Kasson-Mantorville, No. 5 (AAA) Hastings, No. 5 (AA) Scott West, No. 6 (AAA) Apple Valley, No. 9 (AAA) Wayzata, No. 10 (AAA) Forest Lake, No. 11 (AAA) Shakopee, No. 12 (AAA) Willmar.
Kaukauna is ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin's Division 1 by WIwrestle. The program has won a total of six state championships, including four consecutive from 2014-2017. Another Wisconsin team, Luxemburg-Casco, ranked No. 2 in Wisconsin's Division 2, will contend for a top-10 finish this weekend.
Brandon Valley (S.D.) has a very strong program but will be without the services of its top wrestler, nationally ranked heavyweight Navarro Schunke. Brandon Valley repeated as South Dakota Class A state champions last season, scoring the most team points in state meet history.
Apple Valley has won the most Minnesota Christmas Tournament team titles with 16. However, the Eagles have not won a team title since 2014.
Rising middle schoolers
The Minnesota Christmas Tournament often times provides an early glimpse into the future. It's not uncommon to see middle schoolers shine at the Minnesota Christmas Tournament and announce their arrival on the high school wrestling scene. Jake Clark, Destin McCauley, Mark Hall and Brady Berge all won titles while still in middle school. Several other middle schoolers have placed or performed well in the event.
There are a handful of rising middle schoolers to keep an eye on this year. Three middle schoolers ranked in the top 10 at 106 pounds in Minnesota's AAA by The Guillotine will be competing in the event.
Seventh-grader Lincoln Robideau (St. Michael-Albertville), the younger brother of returning champion Landon, placed third at the Super 32 Challenge this year in the middle school division at 100 pounds. He was the Outstanding Wrestler at the Super 32 Challenge the previous year in the elementary division. Robideau is ranked No. 3 at 106 pounds in Class AAA.
Another seventh-grader, Grayson Eggum (Stillwater Area), the son of University of Minnesota head wrestling coach Brandon Eggum, has performed exceptionally well in age group events both on the state and national level. He won a title at USA Wrestling's Brian Keck Memorial Preseason Nationals in 2021. Eggum is ranked No. 4 at 106 pounds in Class AAA.
Eighth-grader Saitaro Kong (Apple Valley), ranked No. 6 at 106 pounds in Class AAA, posted a 3-2 record at the Dan Gable Donnybrook in Iowa.
A couple other middle schoolers to watch at 106 pounds include Brendon Oehme (Brandon Valley, S.D.) and Anthony Heim (Eden Prairie). Oehme placed third at the 2022 Grappler Fall Classic in the middle school division. Heim won the Ethan Herman Memorial Tournament title last weekend.
Brayden Boots (St. Francis) is a talented middle schooler who could make some noise at 132 pounds. He claimed a national title at the 2022 USMC Folkstyle/Boys National Recruiting Showcase in April. Last season as a seventh-grader, Boots won three matches at the Minnesota Christmas Tournament and finished sixth at the Rumble on the Red. This fall he placed sixth at the Super 32 Challenge in the middle school division.
New venue, new format
The Minnesota Christmas Tournament called the RCTC Field House in Rochester home for several years. This year the event is moving to the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester. The Mayo Civic Center will allow for the tournament to expand from eight competition mats to 11. In addition, each bracket will now be wrestled in a 32-man consolation bracket format, which will wrestle out 24 places per weight class. Wrestlers are guaranteed at least four matches. Awards will be presented to the top six wrestlers in each weight class on Saturday night.