Many of the nation’s best wrestlers descended on Las Vegas this weekend to compete in the U.S Nationals, an Olympic Trials qualifier event. From that world-class field, three Gopher alums – Scott Schiller, Pat Smith and Tony Nelson – earned automatic bids into April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.
Among that trio, Schiller’s run to a second-place finish in freestyle at 97 kilograms was the least expected. Schiller entered the tournament unseeded and drew top seed Dustin Kilgore in his opening bout. Schiller knocked off Kilgore, 12-10, and began marching toward the finals. Schiller pinned eighth-seed Jeffrey Felix in the quarterfinals before edging fourth-seed Micah Burak, 4-3, in the semifinals. Despite a loss to Wynn Michalak in the title match, Schiller’s victories positioned him.
Also on the freestyle side, Tony Nelson punched his ticket to Iowa City with a third-place performance at 125 kilograms. Nelson began the tournament with a 2-1 victory over Matthew Meuleners, before falling by that same score to Tyrell Fortune in the semifinals. A strong 9-3 showing against Connor Medbery put Nelson through to the third-place match, where he dropped a 5-2 decision to Bobby Telford.
Like Schiller, Pat Smith outwrestled his seed. Competing in Greco at 66 kilograms, the fourth seed won four matches – the most of any among the Gopher contingent – beginning with consecutive 7-2 decisions before a 9-0 technical fall in the quarterfinals. Smith scored his biggest victory of the day in the semis, where he upset top seed Alejandro Sancho, 5-2. Smith’s run ended in the finals, where he lost a 4-2 decision to Olympian Ellis Coleman.
Six other former Gophers competed in Las Vegas but did not place, including Alec Ortiz and Dylan Ness (both of whom wrestled Greco at 75 kilograms), Zach Sanders (freestyle, 57 kilograms), Jayson Ness, Chris Dardanes and Nick Dardanes (all of whom wrestled freestyle at 65 kilograms).
For Minnesota alumni with hopes of representing the U.S. in Rio next summer, there are more opportunities to reach the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The next event on the Road to Iowa City will be this January in Colorado Springs, host of the Dave Schultz Memorial International.
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