Hahn and national title hopes back in fold

Matt Anderson

It makes sense to see Damion Hahn on Minnesota’s wrestling bench this season.

Hahn, a four-time All-American for the Gophers and a 197-pound national champion in 2003 and 2004, is the last Minnesota wrestler to win a national championship, team or individual.

Now with Hahn back on the bench as the program’s development coordinator, it looks like the team is ready for another national title.

After finishing their home season this weekend undefeated in dual meets, the Gophers are looking more and more like they’re capable of winning a team national championship this season.

“I’m excited,” Hahn said. “I know the coaching staff is excited and (the wrestlers) are. They’re ready to go.”

So far this year, unbeaten and top-ranked Minnesota has met every challenge in its path.

Before the dual season started, Cole Konrad and Matt Nagel each knocked off the defending national champions at their respective weight classes in the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic. Konrad beat Oklahoma State’s Steve Mocco and Nagel defeated Oklahoma State’s Johnny Hendricks ” both top-ranked at the time.

That was the first sign that the Gophers were able to challenge the defending national champion Cowboys, who were thought to be unbeatable this season.

Minnesota served serious notice as a contender for the crown when it beat Oklahoma State in the finals of the National Duals in January.

Since then, Minnesota has seized the momentum. The Gophers won all six Big Ten duals since National Duals and have won at least seven individual matches in each dual except one.

This weekend, Minnesota faces Oklahoma State ” the current benchmark in collegiate wrestling ” once more.

Hahn said he thinks this year’s squad is ready to become the measuring stick.

“They’re that team like the 2000-2001 team where we came out, and we had 10 All-Americans, and we had a couple young guys in the lineup,” Hahn said. “I think they’re the same team.

“They’ve got the guns to go down to Oklahoma City this year and hopefully win an NCAA title as a team.”

It certainly looks that way.

The Gophers have a relatively young team, but they are battle-tested.

Sophomore 133-pounder Mack Reiter was in the NCAA semifinals last year. Sophomores C.P. Schlatter (157)

and Roger Kish (184) were each a win away from getting All-American status last season. Sophomore 174-pounder Gabe Dretsch wrestled at the NCAA Championships last season.

And Minnesota has returning upperclassmen All-Americans in Nagel at 165 and Konrad at heavyweight.

That makes for good viewing from the bench for Hahn.

“I put five, six years into this place,” Hahn said. “And I bled, sweated, cried, everything. It’s just great to be a part of it; sit on the bench and actually see what’s going on now from a different perspective.”

No matter the perspective, this end year could look a

lot like the end of Hahn’s first two: The Gophers posing with the NCAA Championship trophy.

” Matt Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]