Steele, Morton repeat as Co-Wrestlers of the Year
By Travis Rosenau
Journal Sports Writer
ARLINGTON — While it wasn’t easy, success came to the Sibley East wrestling duo of junior Drayden Morton and senior Derek Steele again in 2021.
This past Saturday, Steele won his second consecutive Class A state title, while Morton won his third consecutive.
All of the state championships for the duo came at different weight classes, with Steele winning his first a year ago at 113 pounds and his second this year at 126. Morton took home his first state championship in 2019 at 106 pounds. He then took home another title in 2020 at 120 pounds before claiming his third title at a weight of 132 pounds this past Saturday.
After the duo ended their 2021 seasons unbeaten and as state champions again, they were also named the All-Journal Co-Wrestlers of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Morton finished this season with a spotless 34-0 record and 60 takedowns. He did, however, have an added challenge to this year’s state tournament: another torn meniscus. Last season, Morton entered the season recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee and ended up missing a month and a half of the season.
This season, Morton suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in practice a week before this year’s team section tournament. It didn’t affect him enough to knock him off his championship pedestal, though.
“I still felt like I was able to move pretty close to how I wanted to,” Morton said.
Morton said that he plans on having surgery later this week or early next week.
Morton defeated Ethan Hendrickson of United South Central by a 3-2 decision this year to take home his third consecutive title.
Morton said that while he wasn’t exactly happy with how he performed at state, he was happy that he did enough to take home another title.
“I wasn’t necessarily happy with how I wrestled in the state tournament, but I still got through it and did what I needed to do,” Morton said. “I was just thankful that they allowed a state tournament with all of the COVID stuff going on. Also just thankful that God gave me the opportunity to wrestle.”
Steele went 38-0 this season with 46 takedowns and 202 team points. He said that he was a little dinged up throughout the year but was fortunate to avoid any serious setbacks.
Steele said that after a rougher start to his senior year of wrestling, he cleaned things up and fine-tuned his moves near the end.
“I started the year off a little rougher than I’d like to,” Steele said. “I didn’t have too many tough matches to start the year off, so I was able to still get the wins when I needed to. But I definitely, towards the end of the season, kicked into gear a lot harder and worked to fine-tune my moves and just get cleaner with my shots and finishes. Beginning of the year, guys were able to keep up with me, and towards the end I finally hit that next level of speed and cleanness of my moves.”
Steele defeated Walker Bents of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa by a 5-2 decision in the 126-pound finals at state this year. Bents defeated Steele during Minnesota’s #1 tournament in the summer of 2020, so Steele was able to get payback at a perfect time.
“I lost to [Bents] at that [Minnesota’s #1] tournament by a little bit,” Steele said. “I was looking into the season and I knew I was going to have him in the finals, probably. … Every ranked guy I wrestled this season, looking in, I was thinking about beating these guys that I previously lost to or have had tough matches with. So just trying to build off of that, I knew there was going be a little bit of a target on my back since I won one last year, and guys were going to come out a little more aggressive against me. But winning that final state championship was a good way to end it. I was glad to go undefeated, too, because the last person to do that at Sibley East was Nathan Rose.”
While his standout prep wrestling career is over, Steele said that he’s committed to Augsburg University in Minneapolis and plans to wrestle there at 125 pounds next season.