The penultimate event in determining who represents the United States in the 2016 Olympic Games will take place this weekend in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where more than 175 wrestlers will compete for the final spots in next weekend’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Minnesota will be well-represented in the field at the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier, with nine past, present and future Gophers looking to take one step closer to their Olympic dreams.
Qualifying for team trials through the last chance tournament demands a wrestler be the best. Each weight class in all three Olympic styles – men’s and women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman – has just one available spot in the Olympic Team Trials bracket. To earn that spot, wrestlers must leave Cedar Rapid’s UNI-Dome as the tournament champion.
First up will be alums Dylan Ness and Alec Ortiz, along with incoming recruit Mitch McKee, on the Greco side, which will begin at 10 a.m. Central on Friday and wrap up with championship finals beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Both Ness and Ortiz wrestled at 75 kilograms at the U.S. Senior Nationals earlier this winter, with each posting a .500 record in the event – Ness 1-1 and Ortiz 2-2. At the Dave Schultz Memorial International in January, Ortiz placed third at 75 kg by going 3-1, while Ness went 2-2 after dropping down to 66 kg. McKee will wrestle at 59 kg. During his junior career, McKee claimed a Fargo national championship in Greco.
Freestyle will fire up on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Central, concluding with the championship session at 4 p.m. later in the day. A quartet of alums and a pair of current Gophers are in the freestyle field.
From the current Gopher roster, Tommy Thorn and Bobby Steveson will test their mettle at the senior level. Thorn recently completed his redshirt freshman season wrestling at 141 pounds with a 36-11 record and a 2-2 showing at the NCAA tournament. He will compete at 65 kg this weekend. Wrestling at junior nationals last summer, Thorn captured the national title at 63 kg. Steveson redshirted for the Gophers this season, posting a 14-4 record and reaching three tournament finals wrestling unattached at 197 pounds. Steveson will be in the 86 kg bracket in Cedar Rapids.
The four alums who will be in the freestyle mix are Zach Sanders (57 kg), Chris Dardanes (65 kg), Nick Dardanes (65 kg) and Kevin Steinhaus (86 kg). From this group, Nick Dardanes has had the most success on the national level recently, posting a winning combined record (5-4) between his performances at the U.S. Nationals and the Schultz Memorial, advancing to the consolation semifinals of the latter. For Steinhaus, this weekend’s tournament will be his first competitive action since an All-American performance at the 2014 NCAA Championships, his senior year at Minnesota.
Four Gopher alums have already reserved their spot at the Team Trials next week: Pat Smith (Greco, 66 kg); Jayson Ness (Freestyle, 65 kg); Scott Schiller (Freestyle, 97 kg), and; Tony Nelson (Freestyle, 125 kg).
Fans who want to follow the action will be able to stream every match on every mat on Flowrestling.org, though streaming the event requires a paid FloPRO subscription. Updates throughout the weekend on how wrestlers with Gopher ties fare in their matches can be found by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter.
GopherSports.com is your home for updates about Gopher alums on the national and international stage, as well as the latest news about current Gopher wrestlers. To stay up-to-the-minute on everything surrounding the Minnesota program, be sure to follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.