Column: Raucous crowd lifted Gophers, ya feel me?

by Samuel Gordon

Tony Nelson took his time exiting the locker room after Minnesota’s dual against No. 1 Penn State on Sunday.

Nelson exchanged pleasantries with fans, posed for pictures and signed autographs for young admirers — all of whom watched the two-time NCAA heavyweight champion wrestle at the Sports Pavilion for the last time.

He surely gave them something to remember.

An announced crowd of 5,603 packed the Pav to the rafters, with more than half of those fans showing up at least an hour early.

And on senior night, Nelson had the privilege of sending them all home with a dual-clinching victory in the final match of the afternoon.

Nelson’s three-match losing streak is now a distant memory, and in all likelihood, his Gophers will reclaim the No. 1 ranking.

But while the team performance was impressive Sunday afternoon, the crowd was even better.

Though wrestling is technically a team sport, 10 individual bouts determine the victor. With each match Sunday, the crowd practically lived and died with each Gophers wrestler for the full two hours of the dual.

There were times when the crowd was so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. At other times, I could hear myself breathe.

That full spectrum of emotions seemed to engulf each and every spectator throughout the afternoon.

Still, one thing remained constant through it all: the focus and attentiveness invested in each match, regardless of the previous match’s outcome.

“The crowd was huge,” Nelson said. “This is probably the biggest [crowd] I’ve wrestled [in front of] here at the Pavilion.”

David Thorn was the first to send fans into a frenzy with a victory at 133 pounds. Then Dylan Ness poured gas on the fire with a pin at the 157-pound slot.

Ness said after the match that he embraces larger crowds, and on Sunday, the entire team embodied that mindset.

Though the Gophers split the 10 matches, only one loss was one-sided: 125 pounds. Nearly every Minnesota wrestler competed and was rewarded with a warm ovation at the end of their match.

“When you walk in here, even for introductions, you feel it,” 174-pounder Logan Storley said. “Those big scrambles like I had, you can hear the crowd just roaring.”

The Gophers posed for a photo in the middle of the mat after clinching a share of the conference title.

Groups of fans looked on, snapping pictures of their own.

Though subdued, they were still noticeably jubilant — perhaps well aware of their role in Sunday’s victory.

Ya feel me?