Two weeks ago, Logan Storley went into the Big Ten wrestling championships as a No. 1 seed and the top-ranked wrestler in the nation at his weight.
But the Gophers’ 174-pounder was upset in the first round and lost another match in the consolation bracket before rebounding to win the seventh-place match. Storley, who had lost only once in 23 matches during the regular season, said the disappointment of the conference meet was a valuable experience.
“It’s been a learning process, no doubt,” said Storley, a sophomore from Roslyn, S.D. “I learned a lot at the Big Ten meet. It was a little more mental than physical. I let some things get to me a little. We lost by 12 points to [eventual Big Ten champion] Penn State. If I had finished third or better that would have been 10 or 12 more points.”
Coming off his performance at the conference meet, Storley is the No. 6 seed at 174 pounds for the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday. He finished sixth at last year’s NCAA meet.
“Honestly, after the Big Ten meet, I can’t complain about my seed,” Storley said. “I’ve talked to the coaches, and I’ve changed some things up. I just need to go out and wrestle and not worry about anything. I’m an underdog. I couldn’t ask to be in a better situation.”
Gophers coach J Robinson said he is impressed with how Storley has handled the situation.
“Stress is the great equalizer in life,” Robinson said. “We need to learn to deal with it. For him to call it a learning experience is a good deal.”
Storley will play an important role in the Gophers’ bid for a fourth national title since 2001. The Gophers, who have finished in the top three at the NCAA meet 10 times since 1997, and two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State, each qualified 10 wrestlers for the NCAA meet, as did Missouri, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech.
“Our whole team learned a lot at the Big Ten meet,” Storley said. “Penn State beat us by 25.5 points (143 to 117.5) last year. We’re a little older, a little more mature. It’s going to be a tough meet, but if everyone wrestles well, we can compete with Penn State. On a great day, we could have 10 All-Americans.”
The Gophers had seven All-Americas at last year’s meet. Five of them — Storley, 133-pounder Chris Dardanes, 149-pounder Dylan Ness, 184-pounder Kevin Steinhaus and heavyweight Tony Nelson — return to this year’s meet.
Nelson, the defending NCAA champion, is the No. 2 seed. Nelson is 28-1 on the season. Ness, a runner-up at last year’s NCAA meet as a redshirt freshman, is a No. 6 seed. Steinhaus, who finished fifth last year, is a No. 5 seed and Dardanes, who was fourth last year, is a No. 5 seed.
The Gophers have been successful all season at the top four weights — 174, 184, 197 and heavyweight. The Gophers lost only one match at those four weights during the Big Ten dual meet schedule. In 15 regular-season dual meets, the Gophers were 57-3 in those four weights.
“We’ve got some power there, and we can put together a run,” Robinson said. “But we need help. It has to be a team effort and we need everyone to wrestle well.”
“It was the same way in 2001,” Robinson said, alluding to the Gophers’ first NCAA title when they had 10 All-Americas. “[Former Gophers wrestler] Tim Hartung said this over 10 years ago: ‘We need to have the freshness of newcomers, the technique of veterans and the determination of champions.’ It’s a good quote and it’s what we’ve told the team this week.”