PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Gable Steveson, the Gophers’ tenacious heavyweight, says he is not all that big on studying up on his opponents, even if they are undefeated and seeded higher than he is for a tournament. He figures anybody who is still wrestling now is tough.
“I just stay on top of my game and not worry about anyone else,” Steveson said Sunday after registering an 8-6 decision over Mason Parris of Michigan for the Big Ten title on Sunday at sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center.
The Gophers also got a fourth-place finish at 149 pounds by redshirt freshman Brayton Lee and finished eighth as a team at the Big Ten meet.
Iowa won the team title for the first time since 2010. Penn State’s Mark Hall, a senior from Apple Valley, won his third conference title at 174 pounds.
Steveson (15-0), a sophomore from Apple Valley who is the nation’s consensus top-rated heavyweight, wriggled free of trouble in the final seconds of his match against Parris (28-1) to win his first individual Big Ten title and the Gophers’ first since 2015.
Steveson had not faced Parris this season because he did not wrestle in the Gophers’ loss at Michigan on Jan. 17. Brandon Eggum, the Gophers’ coach, said he tried motivating Steveson beforehand by pointing out Parris was the tournament’s No. 1 seed, not him.
“He didn’t seem to get heated up about that,” Eggum said with a smile.
Steveson said he felt he wrestled well at the meet, pinning Alex Esposito of Rutgers in his first match, then beating Tony Cassioppi of Iowa 9-4 in the semis.
Steveson wanted a Big Ten title rematch against defending NCAA champion Anthony Cassar of Penn State, to whom Steveson lost in the 2019 Big Ten final and NCAA semifinals. Cassar is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
“I was hoping he’d come back,” Steveson said. “But he didn’t.”
Parris and Steveson jousted for the first 70 seconds before Steveson took down Parris.
It was the first of three takedowns of the match for Steveson. He opened the third period with an escape that went almost immediately into a takedown, but Parris, hopping to get free, nearly crashed into the scorer’s table, stopping the match. Eggum lost a coach’s challenge.
Steveson scored another takedown in the final minute of the match, but Parris immediately escaped to trim Steveson’s lead to 7-4. Parris then took down Steveson but was unable to add more points before Steveson escaped.
“I shouldn’t have given up that last takedown,” Steveson said of the match against Parris. “Live and learn.”
Steveson had told the Big Ten Network in a postmatch interview, “I’m dangerous. I’m lethal.” Minutes later, though in a much more somber mood, Steveson said he feels like he has “cleaned up a lot of things” in his technique. Every match now is a big one. And his approach won’t change.
“He’s kind of an easy guy to coach, because he goes out kind of blind and just wrestles the guy,” Eggum said.
Next is the NCAA Championships March 19-21 at U.S. Bank Stadium, an event Steveson says he will enjoy because it is at home. Because Steveson was suspended early in the season, Eggum said he might benefit from not having wrestled so much this year.
The U.S. Olympic trials follow in April, but Steveson said, smiling, “Right now, I’ve got one more thing to do.”