Schlatter hopes to return to glory

The senior wants to end on a high note and win a national title.

Austin Cumblad

The chronology seems backwards. Dustin SchlatterâÄôs college wrestling career couldnâÄôt have started any better. The four-time high school state champion from Ohio won the 2006 national title at 149 pounds as a freshman. The following year, a perfect season was derailed by the most agonizing of margins. Regardless, his third-place finish was a critical piece of the GophersâÄô 2007 national title. SchlatterâÄôs junior year was riddled by hamstring and knee injuries. He missed six weeks and the majority of the Big Ten dual season. Still hampered in the national tournament, he scratched out a seventh-place finish. A year ago, he made the decision to redshirt what would have been his senior season . His return to the Gophers will be at 165 pounds and is slated for Friday at No. 3 Oklahoma State against talented freshman Alex Meade. First to third to seventh âÄî each All-American finishes âÄî may not appear a precipitous drop. But after his first national championship, SchlatterâÄôs goal was four straight. Now, bracketing his career with them is the only remaining option, and Schlatter, who is ranked No. 1 nationally at 165 pounds, will be happy with nothing less as he enters his senior season. âÄúAnything less than a national title for me would be a disappointment,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôve been there and IâÄôve tasted it, and I really want a second national title.âÄù Schlatter arrived on campus believing he could immediately win a national championship. The rest of the country probably started believing it too in the course of eight days in January 2006. Ranked No. 7 at 149 pounds, Schlatter knocked off then-No. 2 Jon Masa of Hofstra and then-No. 1 Zack Esposito in a weekend. The following Sunday, a now-ranked-No.2 Schlatter recorded a 4-1 decision over the new top-ranked wrestler at 149 pounds, IowaâÄôs Ty Eustice. Schlatter lost neither the No. 1 ranking nor a match the rest of the year. âÄúI think a lot of people looking in were shocked at my success, but for me, it was no surprise,âÄù Schlatter said of his national title. âÄúThat was my goal.âÄù Conspicuously affixed with the national champion label, Schlatter quickly turned from the hunter to the hunted during his sophomore season. âÄúThere wasnâÄôt a lot of pressure [on him] as a freshman because he wasnâÄôt expected to do it, but after that, there was a big target on his back,âÄù head assistant coach Joe Russell said. He handled it well. Undefeated through the regular season and the Big Ten championship, where he claimed his second straight title, Schlatter advanced to the semifinals but lost a 3-2 decision to EdinboroâÄôs Gregor Gillespie. Though Schlatter called the loss âÄúextremely disappointing,âÄù he rebounded with two straight wins and an important third place finish which helped propel Minnesota to the national title that had eluded it a year earlier. During that sophomore season, the groundwork was laid for the injuries that would force him to miss significant time during his junior season. Schlatter was battling knee issues heading into the tournament in March. How much it hampered him, heâÄôs not sure. In December of the same year, knee and hamstring injuries sidelined him for six weeks. He returned in time for the Big Ten tournament and in time to exacerbate those injuries in a 5-3 finals loss to IowaâÄôs Brent Metcalf. âÄúAt that point, itâÄôs not like you take any time off,âÄù Schlatter said. âÄúThe national tournament is coming up, and youâÄôre going to wrestle in the national tournament however you are. It doesnâÄôt matter what injuries you have, thatâÄôs the big show.âÄù He dropped again at the tournament, this time to seventh âÄî another âÄúextreme disappointment.âÄù Schlatter underwent surgery in the summer of 2008 and decided to redshirt the 2008-09 season. The time was not wasted, however. He worked at the Olympic Training Facility, competed in numerous international tournaments and wrestled with the U.S. national team at the World Wrestling Championships in Denmark in September. This brings him to the precipice of his final collegiate season. A year and a half removed from college wrestling, Schlatter said heâÄôs energized and excited to return to MinnesotaâÄôs lineup. âÄúItâÄôs been awhile,âÄù Schlatter said. âÄúI want to come back and prove that IâÄôm still the best and that all the training I did [in the last year] paid off.âÄù