He's talked about it, dreamed about it, planned for it, worked toward it. Gable Steveson finally achieved it Saturday, fulfilling his long-held goal of winning an NCAA championship by defeating Michigan's Mason Parris 8-4 to claim the heavyweight crown in St. Louis.
The junior from Apple Valley finished the season 17-0, becoming the first Gophers wrestler to win an NCAA title since fellow heavyweight Tony Nelson in 2012 and 2013. His victory helped the Gophers tie for seventh place in the team standings with 64 points. Two other Gophers earned top-six finishes Saturday at Enterprise Center, with sophomore Patrick McKee placing third at 125 pounds and sophomore Brayton Lee taking sixth place at 157.
The victory pushed Steveson's winning streak to 34 matches and raised his Gophers career record to 67-2. Iowa won the team title with 129 points, with Penn State second and Oklahoma State third.
Steveson took a 2-0 lead with a takedown and never trailed. Ever the showman, he performed a celebratory cartwheel and backflip after the match, then marveled at winning a title he had wanted for as long as he could remember.
"I'm a national champion," said Steveson, the No. 1 seed. "It's been three years since I came to college. I expected to win [an NCAA title] my first year and got beat. Second year, lost to COVID.
"It's been a very long time coming for me. I'm so happy to be here, you don't even understand."
Steveson will pursue another big ambition in two weeks when he wrestles at the Olympic trials in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the No. 2 freestyle heavyweight in the U.S. behind two-time world championships bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski.
As a freshman, Steveson took third in the NCAA tournament after a 4-3 semifinal loss to Anthony Cassar of Penn State. His next chance to win a national title vanished when last year's NCAA championships — which were to be at U.S. Bank Stadium — were canceled because of the pandemic.
That added to his hunger this season. Gophers coach Brandon Eggum said Steveson has "really matured a lot" during his time with the Gophers, steadily improving his strength and conditioning to become more dominant each year.
"He's done a really good job," Eggum said. "The guys he's competing against, I think their goal is just to try to keep it as close as they can and not give up bonus points."
Steveson and Parris, the No. 2 seed, were familiar foes. They wrestled for the heavyweight title at the past two Big Ten championships; Steveson won both, including a 12-4 decision two weeks ago.
Saturday, Steveson knew Parris would switch up his tactics. After Steveson's early takedown, Parris countered with an escape to trail 2-1 after the first period. Steveson added another point on a quick escape in the second period before Parris slowed the pace.
A Parris escape closed the gap to 3-2 early in the third period, but Steveson came back with a takedown and outscored Parris 5-2 through the final stretch.
"I made my adjustments mid-match and took him down when I needed to," Steveson said. "I was prepared for anything, and he was prepared, too. Mason is an excellent opponent. I'm happy to have someone like that to compete against."
McKee, the No. 15 seed at 125, finished off the tournament with his sixth victory in a row. He defeated No. 4 seed Drew Hildebrandt of Central Michigan 5-3 in the third-place match after pinning three of his first four opponents in the consolation bracket. He finished the season 15-7.
Lee, seeded sixth at 157, finished 14-6 and earned all-America status for the second time.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.