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January 7, 2010For a St. Cloud Tech versus St. Cloud Apollo game throw out the scores, records, and talent level. The boys will battle each other for a two-inch piece of hardwood like it is trench warfare. Screens get set harder, elbows come up a bit, and everyone's confidence is up a little higher after something goes right. For the kids it's not about the crowd that night, or the girls in the front row, they would play hard if it was Saturday afternoon at the "Green Court" or Halenbeck Field House on a Sunday night. When it's Tech versus Apollo, it's something special.
Apollo versus Tech basketball games have always had a special meaning simply because it's two schools from the same town battling within the city limits. The rivalry is natural but what has made it special once again is the increased amount of talent at the schools this past decade.
"I would say the rivalry has been very intense the last few years," said Apollo coach Dean Kesler. "It has always been a big game cause both teams are in the same district, but the intensity level has risen because both teams have been very good for the past five or six years."
One guy who knows a little something about this rivalry is Chris Lewis. Lewis has been involved as a player, a coach, a fan, and a supporter (his Minnesota Comets spring/summer AAU team usually includes several players from both squads).
"Around here, no other rivalry compares," Lewis explained. "Rocori/Apollo, or Rocori/Tech would be close, but not the same. I think what sets it apart is the way St. Cloud does their youth programs. They aren't split up Northside (Apollo) and Southside (Tech) but all mixed together, so you grow up from second grade on playing with half Apollo, half Tech teams.
"I would also say, that to have a truly great rivalry you need one team to be able to beat the other no matter what, and I think that's true of this rivalry. One year when I was the assistant at Apollo we won three games but one of them was against Tech at Tech. The win made our season. The same could be said a couple years later of Apollo winning 20 plus games and losing to a sub .500 Tech team."
The atmosphere for a Tech/Apollo game is tremendous as everyone in the school comes out for Tech versus Apollo. The kids do a great job of cheering and chanting throughout the whole game. They make it fun for the players, coaches, parents, and everybody involved. You will also see a lot of former players of both schools at these games, which helps the rivalry continue.
"The atmosphere was perhaps never better than they were last year when both Tech and Apollo were state-ranked," said St. Cloud Times veteran sportswriter Tom Elliott. "There was a packed house at Apollo, which is a rarity. When they played earlier in the season at Tech, that gym was nearly full, too. The student sections were into it and it was loud and fun to be there. I think the other thing last year was that it tended to draw a lot of what I would call "general interest" fans, people with no direct ties to Apollo or Tech who simply wanted to see a good game. A number of them were the types of people you see at St. Cloud State or St. John's games. And, there were a lot of players from around the area there, too."
"There is always energy in the building," said Kesler about the match-up. "Especially last year at Apollo. There were probably 2,500 people in Apollo's gym and it was standing room only. They saw a great game that was back and forth with game ending on buzzer beater by Nate Wolters."
The Tigers won the first game last at Tech by ten points, but Apollo fought with their rivals nose to nose until the end. Wolters from Tech and Andre Garth from Apollo both put on a show setting the stage for the second contest of the season.
"The game later in the year at Apollo was even better," said Elliott. "Wolters broke a tie game at the buzzer with a 17-foot jumper to give Tech the win and keep the Tigers undefeated.
"There have been a lot of good games over the years. What distinguishes last season's games is that both teams were state-ranked and had implications in the Central Lakes Conference. Mostly, when the teams played during my time here (from 1980 until the present), there has been one ranked team from time to time. But usually only one of the teams was good. It's rare when both are."
While recent memories may dominate current conversations about Tech/Apollo there is a storied history. In fact this blood feud may have had some rowdier days back in the 70s and 80s.
"I'm guessing the rivalry was just as hot, if not hotter, in the mid 70s until the mid 80s," Elliot said. "In those years, the games were played at St. Cloud State's Halenbeck Hall because the crowds were too large for Tech's or Apollo's gym. When Apollo first opened in 1970, Tech was still playing at its old gym. You had to get there before the B-squad game at 6 p.m. if you wanted to get in. By the mid-80s, however, the crowds got smaller and they moved the games back to the respective high schools to save money (you have to rent Halenbeck)."
Chris Lewis has been involved with the rivalry since it hit another boiling point in the mid-90s. He gave us his top five memories in timeline order.
1. "The 1995 playoffs, first round at Apollo. Tech has a big lead early, but Apollo comes storming back. Tech misses a ton of front ends of one and ones (the year when the rule was no double bonus) and Apollo sneaks away at the buzzer. Had their been a double bonus, Tech pulls the upset.
2. "In 1997, my senior year after I'd transferred from Tech to Apollo. We went to Tech and the student section was filled during the JV game. They chanted, "Lewis was cool until he left our school" mercilessly throughout the whole game. Tech was awesome that year, behind Sam Bugbee (who later starred at St. John's) and Brett Jarosz (An Australian foreign exchange student).
3. "The 2002 Championship of the Granite City Classic. Tech and Apollo had a slugfest and it was Matt Nelson for Apollo versus Isberner, Johnson, and two or three other big Tech kids. It was just a battle. I think Nelson had 20 points and 20 rebounds in the game and it was two teams banging it in the post as much as possible throwing haymaker after haymaker. Lars Johnson was a difference maker that game for Tech.
4. "It was 2004 and I was coaching at Apollo. We were bad, maybe one win at the time, and the game was played with a month to go in the season. Tech was good as they had Nick Hanks, Matt Zittlow, a bunch of seniors who could play, and they pressed, ran, and won the Central Lakes Conference that year. We (Apollo) started two freshman and maybe two juniors and a senior. Although we were bad (because of our youth) the fact that our seniors were great leaders we never quit.
"We went to Tech and just battled, had a lead, lost it, went down eight or nine, only to come charging back. The gym was packed, crowd was loud, Dean was sweating, their coach Pat Dorsey was sweating, every call was huge, and every loose ball saw five or six guys on the floor for. It symbolizes Tech versus Apollo for me. We (Apollo) shouldn't have been in the same building as that Tech team, and had it been anyone else we wouldn't have been, but this game was for pride and bragging rights. For us as a coaching staff it was about the growth of two freshman (Preston Whitaker and Seth Noreen who are both now at St. Cloud State) and the upperclassmen that helped them figure it out that night.
5. "Last year at Tech and Andre Garth and Nate Wolters just went bananas against each other. The game was tied 20 times, neither team led by more than four or five points. Nate ended with 37 points and Andre with 35. It was like Dominique Wilkins against Larry Bird in the 1987 playoffs. The two players couldn't be stopped. They hit shots from everywhere, finished a shot from every angle imaginable, and it was phenomenal."
Another part of the Tech versus Apollo rivalry has been the intense coaching battles in recent years between Kesler and former St. Cloud Tech coach Randy Jordan. The rivalry will no longer have Jordan pacing up and down the sidelines in his sweater and orange towel because Jordan is now the coach at Stillwater. When the rivalry is renewed Friday January 15th Tech will be led onto the floor by new coach Michael Trewick who currently has the Tigers at 7-0 on the season.
"My family is originally from the St. Cloud area so I have known about the Tech/Apollo rivalry for a long time," said Trewick. "I actually have Aunts, Uncles, and cousins that have went to both schools. I was able to attend both games last year and it was a great atmosphere. I think the last couple of years this thing has really taken off. Dean has done such a great job at Apollo for a long time and Randy really has had Tech going for the last couple of years. That is what has intensified this rivalry lately. I guess what it comes down to is you are battling for everything both on and off the court. Things such as media coverage, fans, and advertising. You never want to give up and inch."
It didn't take long for Trewick to sense the heat between Apollo and Tech as a coach. From day one he's been asked about the January 15th match-up.
"When I got the job the first question many people asked was, 'What is your relationship with Coach Kesler and can we beat Apollo?'," Trewick explained. "I have told everyone the exact same thing. I consider Dean a friend and I am big fan of his program. Now for two or three games a year I will have to put that aside and go out and try to find a way to beat him. Then I continue to say how great it would be for St. Cloud basketball to get not only Tech and Apollo to the State Tournament, but also Cathedral."
The sidelines exchanges may be more cordial this year but the heat of this blood feud will get things boiling the second that first Apollo chant is sent at the Tech kids. Then the Tech kids will respond, the players will get their game face on, and the winner will take home not just a trophy but the honor of beating the team they dislike the most.
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