BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Gabe Dretsch didn’t win a Big Ten wrestling championship. He didn’t even win a match in the championship bracket.
But Cole Konrad won his second-straight heavyweight title. And Roger Kish clinched Minnesota’s team championship with a 3-1 decision over Illinois’ Pete Friedl, while winning an individual championship of his own at 184 pounds.
And Dustin and C.P. Schlatter will get the credit for kick-starting that run to the title with their respective wins over Illinois’ Troy and Alex Tirapelle in the 149 and 157 championship matches.
The Gophers sat in first place coming into Sunday’s final day with only a slim 4.5-point lead over defending champion Illinois.
But it wasn’t Konrad, Kish or either of the Schlatters who set Minnesota off in the right direction Sunday.
It was Dretsch.
“He got us started,” assistant coach Joe Russell said. “He was the first win of the day. The finalists got over here, and they got to watch Dretsch win that match the way he did in overtime. And that kind of spurs the other guys along. He kind of set us up, set the momentum and the guys carried the ball from there.”
The eighth seed at 174 pounds, Dretsch ended up in the consolation bracket after drawing top-seeded and eventual champion Jake Herbert of Northwestern in the first round. Herbert defeated Dretsch 5-3.
But he battled back, beating Wisconsin’s Kelly Flaherty 10-4 and upsetting fifth-seeded Blake Maurer 8-6 on Saturday to qualify for NCAAs and keep himself alive for Sunday.
He then upset Illinois’ Donny Reynolds 6-4 with a takedown in the final two seconds of overtime. The victory didn’t contribute as many points to the scoreboard as the other Gophers wins over Illini wrestlers did, but as Minnesota’s first win Sunday, it contributed crucial emotion.
“Not just the points I scored, but when you go out there and you beat an Illinois guy, they (his Gophers teammates) get pumped up and they’re excited for their match when they wrestle,” Dretsch said. “So it gives them a little more of a boost of energy as well, seeing someone come from your team and wrestle tough, too.”
That wouldn’t have been possible if Dretsch had let the opening round disappointment get into his head.
“A guy has to be able to bounce back,” Konrad said. “You can’t dwell on it, and he did a real good job of that. He’s been good with that all year. He’s had some tough guys that he’s had to wrestle, and he’s been able to bounce back and come back hard, and that’s what he did.”
Dretsch lost his next match, falling 3-1 to third-seeded R.J. Boudro of Michigan State. He had control of Boudro’s leg in the waning moments of the match, but Boudro was able to break free and take Dretsch down in the final five seconds.
Even though he finished on a losing note, his comeback sparked a winner.
“Dretsch wrestled with a lot of heart this weekend, and he wrestled really hard for his teammates,” Russell said. “He knew how important it was for the team, what he did. And you could see every match he was in, he was battling toward the bitter end, even win or lose – it wasn’t a big deal. It was his effort out there. And good things happen when you wrestle as hard as he did.”