Gophers take championship trip to D.C.

After National Title No. 3 in 7 years, the Gophers met with President Bush.

Paul Cordes

>WASHINGTON – It’s doubtful a Division I athletics team needs more motivation than a National Championship itself, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra inspiration.

The 2007 national champion Minnesota wrestling team got just that last Friday.

The Gophers’ championship season was capped in the nation’s capital, where police escorted the team to the Capitol Building, the Pentagon and finally to the White House to be congratulated by President George W. Bush.

Senior C.P. Schlatter, who took 6th place at 157 pounds at the NCAA championships last season, said having the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. was a reminder of some good memories.

“Walking around brings back feelings of why we’re here,” he said. “We won a national title and we worked really hard to get there. This brings back those feelings and makes us want to do it again.”

Although numerous other schools were represented in D.C. as they were recognized for their championship teams, the Gophers got a few extra perks.

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame himself, made arrangements for Minnesota to get into the Capitol Building as his guests and although he wasn’t able to be with the Gophers, members of the team took turns filling his spot in his spacious office.

Minnesota also made a stop at the Pentagon for a tour of the Department of Defense before heading to the White House.

Chair of the Minnesota Board of Regents Dr. Patricia Simmons as well as Vice Chair Clyde Allen accompanied the team and both agreed they could not be prouder of the Minnesota wrestlers.

“You take great pride in an athletic team that are true student athletes,” Simmons said outside the Capitol Building. “It’s been a thrill to watch them be recognized as the top team in the nation. Getting to be with them on this trip has given me another view of these young men and they are truly extraordinary.”

And if a being a two-time heavy-weight national champion put someone in the category of ‘extraordinary,’ then former Minnesota wrestler Cole Konrad certainly falls into it.

The Gophers’ fourth two-time champion in school history rejoined his team for the honor, quietly going about his business at the White House, similar to the way he handled business on the mat.

Konrad passed off the gifts to Bush and was Minnesota’s representative on stage during the president’s remarks to the family and press.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi, who also tagged along, said the Gophers, Konrad included, have represented the University in an incredible way.

“Our mission statement says we’re a window to the University. We are maybe the most visible aspect of the University of Minnesota,” Maturi said. “We all aspire to be champions and our wrestling team is just that. Coach J. Robinson has built a national program that brings a lot of positive attention to the University. These young men and staff have achieved greatness.”

It’s a greatness that Robinson, who is entering his 22nd season at Minnesota with three national titles under his belt, has made a standard in his program.

“Pretty much coach doesn’t set a lot of rules, but when he says something we listen,” Schlatter said. “We know coach expects us to have good character all around, and act appropriately all the time and represent the U.”

And after dealing with a rape case against a former football player and a tough start to this year’s football season, a positive story is something the athletics department was in need of.

Maturi said the wrestling team has always had as focused of an approach to the way it handles its business as any other program at the University and a lot of that can be contributed to Robinson.

“J. is consistent in who he is, he has great values and expects the same of the young men who compete for him,” Maturi said. “As a result, when you wrestle for him here at the U, you know what’s expected of you and you do the right thing.”

That seems to be working for Minnesota, and with 9-of-10 starters from last season returning, the Gophers are sitting in a good spot.

Even though the Gophers have a large void to fill with the loss of Konrad, Schlatter isn’t anticipating any problems this season. In fact, he believes his team is better and more experienced than ever.

“We have a lot of older guys on the team and we’re more experienced,” he said. “We don’t have to tell people what to do or what’s expected because we all know it and we can just come in and get it done.”