Three U wrestlers take 3rd at NCAAs

Allison Younge

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Gophers 142 pounder Jason Davids had trouble sleeping after a disheartening 10-4 loss in the NCAA semifinals to Indiana’s Roger Chandler. For the third time this season, Chandler’s relentless pressure had proven too much for Davids.
“It was a hard match to take,” Davids said. “My goal was to be in the national finals, but I knew if I did lose to Chandler I had to come back and finish third.”
A third place finish was in store for Davids, but not before meeting another face from his past — Iowa’s Kasey Gilliss. Davids’ record indicated four losses this season: three to Chandler (No. 2) and one to Gilliss — Iowa’s threatening freshman.
“I knew I’d meet Gilliss to advance to the third place match,” Davids said. “I got really nervous — I needed to win to prove that my loss to him earlier in the season was a fluke.”
Positioned on the mat directly in front of the Gophers cheering section, Davids scored a takedown in the first period. The booming Hawkeyes mass was silenced as Davids ignited Minnesota fans by gaining control of the match.
“I caught a little piece of his heel with my pinky and my thumb and something in my mind told me — I’m not going to let this go,” Davids said. “He had all of his momentum going out of bounds, but somehow I held on to score the takedown.”
After a 7-3 victory over Gilliss, Davids’ momentum propelled him to a 6-2 win over Oklahoma State’s Scott Reyna (No. 4) and a third place finish overall — becoming a two-time All-American.
Gophers sophomore Chad Kraft took the second step toward becoming the Gophers first four-time All-American at this year’s national tournament. The Gophers’ young 150 pounder earned All-America status for the second time, clinching third place after a grueling tournament lineup.
After landing a last-second takedown to defeat Lock Haven’s Mike Rogers and advance to the semifinals, Kraft (No. 4) was set to meet Iowa’s invincible Lincoln McIlravy. Hawkeyes fans went wild as their tournament favorite dominated the mat. For the third time this season, Kraft experienced McIlravy’s power in a 9-3 semifinal loss.
“If I had to lose to anyone in this tournament, I’m glad it was to Lincoln — he’s probably one of the best 150 pounders ever to wrestle,” Kraft said.
As McIlravy (a senior) went on to win his third national title and the NCAA Most Outstanding Wrestler award, Kraft battled two intense overtime matches en route to a third place finish.
Kraft scored a quick overtime escape to down Illinois’ Eric Siebert, advancing him to the third place match against Oregon’s Scott Norton (No. 6). With the score tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, the match was stuck in a low-scoring deadlock.
Two minutes later, the score still tied, the coin flip went to Norton. He opted to start down and try for an escape to win the match. For 30 seconds, Norton circled the mat attempting desperately to escape Kraft’s hold. The buzzer sounded with Kraft on top, he was awarded a point for riding time to secure a third place finish.
“I went down to the wire in both of my matches, but I had the heart to come out on top,” Kraft said
Gophers 190 pounder Tim Hartung offered Minnesota the last chance for a national finalist. Hartung (No. 3) wrestled confident throughout the first three rounds of the tournament. In the semifinals Oklahoma State’s John Kading (No. 2) provided Hartung with his biggest challenge of the year. A 1-1 tie after regulation sent the slow, defensive match into overtime.
As the exhausted competitors dripped with sweat, anticipation loomed. Hartung managed to get a hold of Kading for a single-leg takedown. A split second later, in an unexpected move, Kading turned around and scored a takedown on Hartung to win the match 3-1. For only the second time this season, Hartung felt defeat.
The sting of defeat couldn’t last long, however. A strong performance was necessary for Hartung to stay in the race for third.
“I wanted to take first; that’s what I came here to do,” Hartung said. “But once I got beat, third was the best I could do and that’s what I had to focus on.”
The qualifying third place match placed Hartung against Michigan State’s Brian Picklo (the only other wrestler to beat Hartung this season). Coming off the loss to Kading for a morning match wasn’t easy for Hartung, but his competitive mindset pulled him through.
“The minute he slapped my head that first time I was like, ‘alright, time to go.’ He pissed me off,” Hartung said. “He’s sore, everybody’s sore, but you just have to go after it.”
After a slow start, Gophers fans erupted as Hartung vented his anger by pinning Picklo in 2:10. He then went on to dominate Pittsburgh’s Mark Bodo to claim third place by a score of 5-1.
“It’s a great way to end the season,” Hartung said. “It’s always nice to end on a winning note, and it’ll make spring break a lot more fun.”
At this year’s NCAAs, Hartung (34-2), Davids (36-4), and Kraft (31-5) distinguished themselves among the nation’s wrestling elite.
Note: The three top-ranked opponents that kept the Gophers out of the finals — Chandler (Indiana), McIlravy (Iowa) and Kading (Oklahoma State) — are all seniors and will lose their eligibility next year.