Five alumni to attend Olympic Team Trials

The wrestlers will compete for a spot on the U.S. team that will go to Rio.

by Jack White

The United States Olympic Team Trials take place this weekend in Iowa City, and five Minnesota alumni will compete for the chance to wrestle in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
Alec Ortiz and Pat Smith will compete in the Greco-Roman side of the field, which prevents wrestlers from grabbing below the waist and attacking with their legs. Jayson Ness, Scott Schiller and Tony Nelson will compete in the freestyle field.
The three Gophers alumni in the freestyle field combined for 397 victories at Minnesota, 11 All-American titles, five Big Ten individual championships and three individual national titles.
Nelson is ninth all-time in victories at Minnesota with 131, and he won the 2012 and 2013 national titles in the heavyweight class. He will compete at the trials at 125 kilograms and was ranked seventh by USA Wrestling in his weight class on April 1.
“Some kids dream about being on the Olympic team, and that’s what I’ve been working for the last two years since I graduated,” Nelson said. “It would mean the world to me to represent the United States of America.”
Ness started for the Gophers at 125 pounds in 2007, the last time the program won a national championship. He ranks third in school history with 148 victories and was the 2010 individual national champion at 133 pounds.
The Bloomington, Minn., native will be competing at 65 kilograms and was unranked by USA Wrestling in his weight class on April 1.
“When you compete in college, you compete every weekend, and you get to see a lot of the best guys in the country,” Ness said. “A lot of these guys that we’ll be competing against at the trials, we’ve seen them throughout our college career. We’ve watched them compete, [and] we’ve competed against them.”
Smith, who had a career record of 57-32 at Minnesota, is competing in the trials for the second time. He took an Olympic redshirt after his redshirt freshman year with the Gophers and finished in the top-eight in the Greco-Roman field in 2012.
He is ranked fourth at 66 kilograms out of 10 wrestlers in the competition.
Ortiz, the other Minnesota alumnus on the Greco-Roman side, qualified for the competition with a victory at the Last Chance Olympic Trials at 75 kilograms. He is not ranked in the competition field with 14 wrestlers in his weight class.
The last former Gophers wrestler competing in the freestyle competition is Schiller, a three-time All-American. He finished second at Senior National in Las Vegas at 97 kilograms to qualify for the team trials, and he was ranked eighth in his weight class by USA Wrestling on April 1.
“Little football players, baseball players, they think about playing in the pros, and when you’re a little kid as a wrestler, the Olympics is what you dream about,” Schiller said.
“[I’m] looking forward to the opportunity to making it happen this weekend.”