>AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Taking down the Minnesota wrestling team was tough; keeping them down proved to be impossible.
Battling back from a disastrous Friday that saw Iowa State take over the tournament’s driver seat, the Gophers used sheer resiliency in the wrestlebacks and an exclamation-point pin by senior heavyweight Cole Konrad in his final collegiate match to give Minnesota its third national title in the last seven years.
Coach J Robinson said the coaches needed to see a change in attitude and style in the tournament’s final day if the Gophers were to capture the NCAA crown.
“We woke up positive this morning knowing that this thing wasn’t over yet,” he said. “Today all our wrestlers responded when they had to. That’s what champions do.”
Coming into the tournament as the top seed and overwhelming favorite, Minnesota found itself hanging onto a slim lead in the final day due in large part to the ferocious wrestling of Iowa State, who sent three wrestlers into the finals, and a banged-up lineup that included the sprained MCL of undefeated sophomore Dustin Schlatter.
His dropped decision on day two stunned the crowd and proved the Gophers were not invincible.
Konrad, Minnesota’s other undefeated wrestler, said despite the second-day near meltdown, Minnesota felt ready to prove who the best team in the nation really was on the third.
“As poorly as the second day went, we knew we had done enough to not let ourselves get out of it,” he said. “We just kept coming back, again and again.”
But even with the Gophers’ best efforts Saturday, they still had to sit through three pressure-filled matches by Cyclones’ wrestlers to learn their fate.
After senior Trent Paulson pulled out the decision at 157 pounds, the next two Iowa State wrestlers both came out on the wrong end of tight decisions to wrap up the team title for Minnesota, sending its fans into a frenzy.
Had Iowa State taken anything more than one of three titles, it would have all been on Konrad’s shoulders; instead it was over before he even hit the mat.
Robinson said rooting against other wrestlers from different squads is tough, but it’s the nature of the beast known as the NCAA tournament.
“Watching those matches was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than the fate of your team being in the hands of others.”
Junior Mack Reiter, who failed to earn All-American status for the first time in his career after battling an ACL injury, said despite his individual disappointment, to be part of the national title team is something he’ll never forget.
“I almost was rooting for Iowa State for a bit there, just so Cole could end it himself,” he said. “But however it ended, we got the title and I’d trade my All-American status in for it any day.”
It wasn’t a pretty tournament by any means, but in the end Minnesota again finds itself on top of the collegiate wrestling hill, ending Oklahoma State’s four-year reign.
Konrad said the final session of the tournament ended in a dreamlike fashion.
“To see myself in this position four years ago almost seemed impossible,” he said. “It’d be tough to script a better ending.”
And so as the four-time All-American joined his teammates in celebration at mid-rink, a career was finished and the 2007 wrestling campaign was complete.
Robinson said coaching Konrad for four years was something truly special.
“He wants to be an Olympic champion and this is just one more step,” he said. “It’s been an honor to have him wrestle at Minnesota and we’ll miss him.”