Wrestlers take third at NCAA championships

by Allison Younge

CEDAR FALLS Iowa — One single point was the difference for the Gophers’ third place trophy at the NCAA wrestling tournament held at Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome.
“One of our goals was to bring something back from the tournament, some kind of hardware,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “And we did it.”
Minnesota tied its highest finish ever with 71 team points, finishing third behind Iowa (170) and Oklahoma State (113.5). Five Gophers earned All-America status — the most in Minnesota wrestling history. Jason Davids, Chad Kraft and Tim Hartung clinched third place honors, while Shelton Benjamin and Pat Connors took fifth and eighth place respectively.
A third-place team finish looked nearly impossible after the second day of the tournament. Minnesota was in fifth place and without any finalists. At that point, the Gophers coaching staff took control. Minnesota wrestlers needed pins and upsets to move up to third.
“We figured out what we needed to do and we did it,” Robinson said. “We went 7-2 for our final day — that’s pretty dang good.”
Moving up from a 19th-place finish at last year’s NCAAs to third this year marked a major accomplishment for the Gophers. Minnesota was represented at all 10 weight classes, which had an extremely positive impact on the overall team score.
“Everybody added points here,” Robinson said. “And it came down to one point — so it was really a team effort.”
A total of about 90,000 people witnessed the Gophers’ record-breaking performance — the largest crowd in United States wrestling history. Thousands of Iowa wrestling fans were on hand to watch Dan Gable’s Hawkeyes win five individual titles and a team title.
Throughout the tournament, the Iowa fan support was unrivaled. Swarms of cheering Hawkeyes fans dressed in black and gold were noticed even by focused tournament participants.
“It’s sort of a funny thing,” Gophers 142 pounder Jason Davids said. “The whole crowd is divided, there’s the Iowa fans who cheer for everyone from Iowa, and then there’s everybody else who cheers against Iowa.”