Konrad pin of Mocco seals National Duals

Minnesota handed Oklahoma State its first loss of the season Sunday.

David McCoy

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa ” There was a wrestling meet going on, and a pretty good one too.

No. 2 Minnesota was locked up in a tight struggle with No. 1 Oklahoma State for the National Duals championship, and it was coming down to the wire.

Minnesota’s Roger Kish was on the mat, wrapping up a 7-3 win over Brent Parkey. And unranked Mitch Kuhlman’s 197-pound match with Cowboys two-time defending NCAA champion Jake Rosholt was up next.

But as the tension built in anticipation of the heavyweight match between No. 1 Cole Konrad and No. 2 Steve Mocco that would decide the National Duals champion, Minnesota’s Konrad would have none of it. Instead, he paced in the far corner of the UNI-Dome, alone but for the company of assistant coach Joe Russell.

An in-your-face pep talk? Nope. Discussing strategy on how to take down his arch-nemesis and two-time NCAA Champion? Try again. A moment of silent meditation, eyes closed, visualizing victory? Hardly.

They were telling jokes.

“I like that pressure,” Konrad said after his pin at 5:26 handed the Gophers (12-0) a 21-14 win and the National Duals title Sunday in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “It’s kind of my ideal situation. That’s why I like the heavyweight division. The perfect match is having it all come down to me.”

Russell said he wanted to make sure Konrad was ready mentally.

“What I was really doing was just trying to keep him relaxed and not thinking about the match,” Russell said. “He knew it was going to come down to him and he’s in that situation a lot for us and rises to the occasion.”

Konrad ended Mocco’s 85-match winning streak as well as Oklahoma State’s 30-match dual meet winning streak. Minnesota beat Hofstra 28-7, Iowa State 32-6 and Central Michigan 20-15 in the team’s first three duals.

Earlier this season, Konrad beat Mocco in an exhibition match at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic. But after falling to Mocco three times last year, including an overtime loss in the NCAA Championship, Sunday’s win brought redemption.

“I think I needed more to prove it more to myself that I really beat him straight up last time and that I can do it again,” Konrad said. “It was more mental than anything.”

With the score tied 1-1 in the third period after each wrestler gained an escape, Konrad put Mocco in a body lock and used an inside trip to bring him down.

“The last time I wrestled him I got a lot under him so he was backing away hard,” Konrad said. “He stepped into me that one time and I just drove.”

A 15-14 Minnesota lead going into the heavyweight matchup set the table for the dramatic ending. Trailing 7-0 after 125-pounder Travis Lang was majored 11-0 and No. 4 Mack Reiter was upset 6-4 at 133, Minnesota’s chances at its first National Duals title since 2002 looked grim.

But then unranked 141-pounder Manuel Rivera upset No. 6 Daniel Frishkorn 9-4 after nearly pinning him. Gophers fans, who made up a large portion of the announced crowd of 6,231, booed the call. Rivera said he thought he had pinned Frishkorn as well.

But it only got better from there for the Gophers. True freshman Dustin Schlatter then knocked off No. 1 Zack Esposito 8-7 at 149 pounds to pull Minnesota within a point.

“At a meet like this, emotion plays a huge factor and somebody that’s not supposed to do something has to do something,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “Dustin stepped up, Manny stepped up, Cole stepped up and that’s what happens.”

Konrad won the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler award, but it arguably was Schlatter ” ranked seventh at 149 ” who was most impressive for Minnesota, beating No. 2 Jon Masa of Hofstra and No. 5 Mark DiSalvo of Central Michigan as well.

“I think it shows that when everybody said they’re unbeatable and that it’s just a race for second place, that’s not the case at all,” Schlatter said of the Cowboys. “We’re right there with them and I think it showed everyone that Minnesota’s going to be the team to beat.”

And now that Minnesota will hold the nation’s top ranking, that will bring what Russell calls “a different, but fun pressure.”

And if Minnesota wrestles anything like it did this weekend, it won’t be only Konrad who will shine when the big pressure hits.

“I think (the No. 1 ranking) will help this team because this is what we’ve thought how good they could be,” Robinson said. “And now it’s happened and it will help sink in. And now we’ve got a little bit of time to make it sink in before it really counts at NCAAs.”