OKLAHOMA CITY – Although four years older and almost twice his weight, Minnesota heavyweight wrestler Cole Konrad shares a special bond with 149-pound freshman Dustin Schlatter.
They’re both national champions.
And they made history last weekend at the NCAA Wrestling Championships – both individually and together.
Now that this year’s second-place finish is history, coach J Robinson said he expects his champions to lead the Gophers to another strong title run next year.
“Anytime you have national champions on a team, other guys aspire to be them,” Robinson said. “It’s a friendly competition. So it’s good having them back. You’ve got some leaders on your team.”
Although they both won their first titles in the same year, they took very different roads to get there.
Konrad might have gone unbeaten and beaten Oklahoma State’s Steve Mocco for the fourth time this year to capture the title, but it came after a year of immense frustration.
Mocco beat Konrad three times last season, including a win in overtime in last year’s NCAA championship match.
An exhibition win over Mocco at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic in their first meeting after last year’s final gave Konrad the means to wrestle such a strong season.
“It really changed things because then it’s a confidence deal, all the sudden the door was open,” Robinson said. “And once it was open, I think he wrestled differently. Instead of worrying about Mocco, I think he wrestled more to win.”
Konrad’s win in the finals was as tight as could be. Tied at two in the second tiebreaker, Konrad rode Mocco the entire 30-second period and then escaped to take a 3-2 lead. With 10 seconds left, Konrad sealed the win with a takedown.
The win pushed Minnesota into second place in the team race.
“It was in the back of my mind, but when I was out there I wasn’t thinking, ‘I have to win this for the team,’ ” Konrad said. “I had to win this to get some payback from last year, and I knew it would take care of the team, too.”
With the win, Konrad completed the best season in Gophers history, finishing 41-0 on the year to join Marty Morgan (39-0, 1991) and Tim Hartung (39-0, 1999) as the only Minnesota wrestlers to finish a season unbeaten.
Schlatter, on the other hand, didn’t have to wait long at all to experience success. After losing his only match 13 bouts into the season to Central Michigan’s Mark DiSalvo, the true freshman won 30 straight, capped off with the national championship win over Iowa’s Ty Eustice.
Schlatter, who became the first freshman ever to win a title at Minnesota, said winning it all was his goal since before the season began.
“I didn’t go around telling people I was going to be the national champ because, to be honest, I don’t think that many people would have really believed me,” Schlatter said. “But yeah, I definitely thought I could do it.”
Schlatter took down Eustice halfway through the first period, then scored an escape in the third and added 1:15 of riding time to win the national championship 4-0.
After the final second ticked away, Schlatter turned to the section of Minnesota fans and pointed.
“My parents were up there,” Schlatter said. “Minnesota fans are great. I love them all; they are just a great bunch of people, and they support me, and I did it for them. A big part of it was for them.”
And after a somewhat disappointing finish this year, Schlatter’s older brother C.P. said he expects those two leaders – as well as those who faltered – to make a strong push next season.
Four All-Americans and nine starters return to the team that finished 20-1 during the dual meet season and won the Big Ten Championship.
“We have only good things ahead,” C.P. Schlatter said. “We’ve got (two) returning champs, (and) us other three (returning) guys are going to be seeded pretty high at the beginning of the year. But we’ve got a long summer of training ahead so we can get it done.”