Mitch McKee will once again be in the best-of-three championship series to decide who will represent the United States at 60 kilograms at this year’s World Junior Championships by virtue of his second consecutive UWW junior national title, a distinction he earned with a wild, 13-10 victory in the championship bout on Saturday night. McKee’s title highlighted a strong weekend of competition in Las Vegas for a quintet of current Gophers that wrestled in the nation’s premier 20-and-under freestyle tournament.
McKee, who just completed his true freshman season for the Gophers, won last year’s UWW Junior National Championship without ever appearing to be in danger. He marched through his first four opponents by a combined total of 51-8 before a pin in the title bout. McKee was even more convincing against this year’s field, allowing just one point in five matches to reach the finals, outscoring his foes 47-1. The finals, however, were a drastic departure from the past two years.
Vitali Arujau trailed McKee 5-2 at the break before scoring the first four of the second period to take a 6-5 lead with 2:32 remaining. McKee and he then traded the lead five times in the final 152 seconds, with McKee scoring the final points on a four-point move late in the match to win the title 13-10 in dramatic fashion. For someone who had made a habit of taking the drama out of his matches the past two years, this last match was quite a departure. Arujau’s 10 points were more than McKee had allowed in total during his 10 previous matches at the event.
McKee was one of two Gophers returning to Las Vegas as a defending champion. Rylee Streifel captured last year’s 120-kilogram championship and came ready to again stand at the top of the podium. After grinding out a 2-0 win in his opening contest, Streifel built momentum with 12-3 and 11-0 wins to reach the semifinals. A tough loss to Jordan Wood sent Streifel into the wrestlebacks, from which he navigated to a fifth-place finish.
Jose Champagne and Miles Patton both wrestled at 70 kilograms, and each found some success and reached Saturday’s later rounds. Both opened with a pair of big wins, Champagne with back-to-back 10-0 victories, Patton also with tech falls, 13-2 followed by 10-0. The pair ended up in wrestlebacks when each fell in his third match. Champagne came up just shy of a podium finish, dropping a 6-2 decision in the Round of 12.
Dylan Anderson competed at 84 kilograms and was ultimately eliminated in a wild, 22-12 match against Taylor Venz. The pair traded big moves early, Venz with a five-pointer answered by four from Anderson, but it was runs of seven straight points in the first period, and then eight unanswered to close the match, that sealed it for Venz.
McKee and other Gophers will be back on the mat in Lincoln, Neb., this June for the Junior World Team Trials. As mentioned, McKee’s title in Vegas automatically qualifies him for the best-of-three championship series in that tournament. Others will have to reach the finals by earning their way through tournament brackets.
While it is the college wrestling offseason, it’s prime season for freestyle and Greco. To stay up-to-date on how past, present and future Gophers are doing in competition this summer, or just for general news about the program, GopherSports.com is your home for Gopher Wrestling news. Be sure to follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates.