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Simley senior Kyle Gliva successfully pinned South St. Paul's Adan Bueno at 132 weigh class in a Jan. 10 meet at Tartan High School. Gliva will seek his third consecutive state title. Photo by BRE McGEE • Special to the Star Tribune

When was the last time Simley's wrestling team was not the hands-down favorite to win the Class 2A state championship?

That would be 2008, when Jake Short was a wide-eyed, but not intimidated, seventh-grader. The Spartans were an upstart group that surprised many by taking home the Inver Grove Heights school's first state championship since 1992.

"We had a bunch of young kids," recalled Short, now an 18-year-old senior and one of three team captains, "and we were definitely the underdogs that year."

Fast-forward to this year, and Short said he feels the same way again.

There are two significant differences, however. One is that Simley has reeled off five consecutive state championships, establishing the school as one of the state's premier programs. Another is that Short is the owner of three individual state titles and a No. 1 national ranking at 152 pounds.

"We lost some kids, we have some young kids, we've had some injuries," Short said. "It's sort of like it was that first year. No one's expecting us to come in and win."

It's a position the team enjoys, said coach Will Short, Jake's father. The team has had a target on its back for a long time and now it has something to prove.

"That's a good thing," Will Short said. "Winning multiple titles is really hard. People think it's just having the athletes, but you still have the same injury problems and other issues as everyone else. You still have to worry about them staying committed and working.

"We've got a couple of weeks [until sections]. I think we're coming around."

After a clean sweep in a four-team meet against bigger Class 3A schools Saturday at Centennial, Simley is 16-5 on the season and starting to hit its stride.

The team has been growing up and gaining experience in some difficult tournaments, Will Short said. Simley wrestled in a pair of difficult Rochester meets in December and at the renowned Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wis., on Jan. 4-5.

Overall, the Spartans' results have been mixed, albeit against some stiff competition.

"We have a lot of kids that are learning what it's like to wrestle big varsity matches in big situations," Will Short said. "They're learning what it's like to have that pressure, and once they figure it out, it'll be a different story."

If the younger wrestlers need some guidance, they don't have to look much further than the team's captains.

Jake Short, 27-0 on the season, is the only three-time individual state champion in the school's history. Fellow seniors Nick Wanzek and Kyle Gliva have each won back-to-back titles in the past two years.

"You can't mention one of them without having to talk about all three of them," said Will Short, a two-time state champion at Simley in the late 1980s. "Those guys are Simley wrestling. They're the reason we've had this run we're on."

Jake Short and Wanzek will wrestle next season for the University of Minnesota. Wanzek also is unbeaten this season, 28-0 through Saturday at 170 pounds. Both wrestlers won their weight classes at the Cheesehead Invitational.

They acknowledge that all of their individual success -- past and present -- doesn't necessarily translate to team titles, though.

"Each year's different," Will Short said. "We know we have three high-powered seniors, but we need everyone hitting their stride.

"We're going to do the absolute best we can to get number six, but there are a lot of good teams, there's good competition, and we'll just see what happens."

Still, they can't picture the season ending in any other way.

"That's the goal," Jake Short said. "It would be nice for history to repeat itself."

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