After repeatedly flirting with a spot on the Greco national team over the past several years, Gopher alum Pat Smith broke through this weekend in Las Vegas, winning the 71-kilogram title to earn a spot on the American team for the 2017 World Championships, which will be contested in Paris this August.
For the second straight year, Smith reached the best-of-three championship series to decide the spot on the national team for Worlds. Unlike in freestyle, where this year’s U.S. Open was a qualifier for World Team Trials, this year’s Open doubled as the trials for Greco, so Smith (and his competitors) knew the stakes were high heading into Vegas.
Smith’s first match provided more scoring than his next three matches combined as Smith showed more firepower than Colin Schubert to win, 12-7. Smith won his next bout, 6-0, to earn his place in the best-of-three finals. Unlike last year, Smith was in control throughout, picking up a 4-1 win over Christopher Gonzalez in the first match before coming back with a 6-0 win to seal his spot on the Team USA.
Smith was joined by Minnesota alums Brad Dolezal (71 kilograms) and Alec Ortiz (75 kilograms) wrestling Greco in Las Vegas. Ortiz found himself in the middle of what may have been the toughest Greco weight in the tournament. A 3-3 loss on criteria in his opening-round match sent Ortiz to wrestlebacks. He worked his way through the consolation bracket to earn a spot in the seventh-place match, where he defeated Michael Hooker, 8-0. Dolezal, meanwhile, was eliminated in the consolation bracket in a tough, 10-9 defeat to Alex Mossing.
Though not a world team trials event on the freestyle side, the U.S. Open still featured several Gopher alums looking to better position themselves for a spot on the national freestyle team.
Current Volunteer Assistant Coach Zach Sanders and two-time collegiate national champion Tony Nelson led the way for this group, placing fifth in the country at 57 and 125 kilograms, respectively.
Sanders, who just five weeks ago was matside coaching the Gophers at the NCAA Championships, beat his first two opponents by a combined score of 21-0 before falling to former NCAA champ Nahshon Garrett, 12-8, in the quarters. Sanders went on to pick up three more wins in wrestlebacks to earn a fifth-place finish.
Nelson chopped down his first three foes, allowing just four points in three matches, to reach the semifinals. Nelson fell to old rival Zach Rey, 4-3, and was bounced to consolation matches. Nelson capped his tournament with his fourth win of the weekend, a 10-0 tech fall over Justin Grant for fifth place.
Jayson Ness (61 kilograms) and Dylan Ness (70 kilograms), as well as current Gopher Bobby Steveson (97 kilograms) also wrestled freestyle at the Open. The younger and heavier Ness, as well as Steveson, advanced as far as the Round of 12 before being eliminated from the competition.
Freestylers will be back at it in Lincoln, Neb., at the Freestyle World Team Trials. The winner of each weight at the team trials will face the U.S. Open champion at that weight in a best-of-three set before leaving Lincoln to decide the United States’ 2017 freestyle roster for Worlds.
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.