Gable Steveson knows he doesn't have to be in a hurry. The Gophers heavyweight wrestler celebrated his 19th birthday only a week ago, and if he doesn't make the U.S. roster for this fall's world championships, he figures he has many more chances to come.
Still, there's no time like the present. Following a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament, Steveson moved on to the next goal — competing at the senior-level world championships for the first time. He can claim the 125-kilogram roster spot at Saturday's Final X: Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.
The Apple Valley native will face world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski in a best-of-three series, with the winner earning a place in September's world championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
At the urging of assistant coach Trevor Brandvold, Steveson took a short break, after finishing his freshman season with a 35-2 record. It took him no time at all to shake off the sour taste of those defeats and get back to chasing his ambitions.
"I came back refreshed," Steveson said. "I think I got my swagger back after taking a few losses. I feel like I'm ready to go.
"I feel like the season has set me up for something better. And now is the time to go get it."
A three-time world champion — twice at the cadet level, and once as a junior — Steveson will be the youngest freestyle wrestler competing at Final X. He showed he was ready by going 5-0 at last month's world team trials, outscoring opponents 43-8.
Though Steveson said "it's going to be crazy" to wrestle someone of Gwiazdowski's caliber, he emphasized he is not intimidated by the former NCAA champ and two-time world bronze medalist. The matchup between two nimble heavyweights is expected to be high-scoring and dynamic. That suits Steveson's style, and Brandvold said his youth won't be an issue.
"You don't think a guy just turning 19 years old would be ready for this level," Brandvold said. "These are guys who have competed on the world stage multiple times. But [Steveson] has shown his maturity level, his ability to score points on these guys and just his confidence level is tremendous."
The Steveson-Gwiazdowski matchup is one of seven weight classes in men's freestyle, Greco-Roman and women's freestyle to hold its best-of-three final during Saturday's evening session. After each pair has wrestled its first match, the second matches will follow in the same order, then any necessary third matches after that.
The competition represents another step for Steveson toward the 2020 Olympic trials in April. He said he plans to compete at some dual meets and the NCAA championships next season, but he also expects to wrestle in some freestyle tournaments.
Two other Minnesotans are finalists for berths on the U.S. Greco-Roman team for the world championships. Former Gopher Pat Smith of Minneapolis will face Kamal Bey in a best-of-three series Saturday in the 77 kg class. At the second Final X on June 15 in Lincoln, Neb., former Augsburg wrestler and Hibbing native Leslie Fuenffinger — the reigning U.S. Greco-Roman champion at 60 kg — will wrestle Ildar Hafizov for the roster spot at that weight.