Some of the toughest matches of Pat Smith's career have come in consolation bouts. The Chaska wrestler was reminded of that Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, when he had to shake off the disappointment of Friday's semifinal loss at the Olympic wrestling trials and try to forge ahead.
Smith made it to the consolation finals of the Greco-Roman 77-kilogram class, but he dropped a 4-0 decision to RaVaughn Perkins to finish in fourth place. Two other Minnesotans also wrestled for third place in the Greco-Roman division Saturday. Leslie Fuenffinger, a Hibbing native and two-time NCAA champ at Augsburg, pinned Sam Jones in the 60 kg class, while heavyweight Donny Longendyke, an Augsburg alumnus from Vadnais Heights, fell 3-1 to Jacob Mitchell.
No Minnesotans made the championship finals in Greco-Roman, marking the first time since 1964 that the state will not have a wrestler in that discipline on the U.S. Olympic team. Fuenffinger was the only one to make the U.S. senior national team in Greco-Roman. The top three athletes in each weight class make the team, which provides funding, access to training camps and opportunities to compete internationally.
"I'm glad I finished on top, finished with a bang to get on the national team,'' Fuenffinger said. "I'll keep shooting for that top spot.''
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics to 2021 leaves only three years — rather than the usual four— until the next Summer Games. Fuenffinger plans to try for a place at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, while Smith was uncertain what his next move will be.
"There are still a lot of opportunities coming up this year,'' Smith said. "We have a national tournament in about three weeks, and there are world championships in October, with the trials in September. I really don't know. I'll need to take some time and clear my head.''
Emily Shilson of Maple Grove went 1-1 in Saturday's consolation bracket of the women's freestyle 50 kg class, falling 10-0 in the consolation semifinals to five-time world team member Whitney Conder. Shilson, a three-time national champion at Augsburg, began the day with a 10-0 technical fall over Aleeah Gould.
The 20-year-old finished the trials with a 3-2 record. Four other young competitors reached Saturday's championship finals, scoring upsets in the challenge round over some of the biggest names in U.S. women's wrestling. Two 17-year-olds — Kylie Welker of Waterford, Wis., and Pennsylvania's Kennedy Blades — made the finals, at 76 kg and 68 kg. Macey Kilty, 20, and Ronna Heaton, 22, also wrestled Saturday for Olympic berths.
Women's national coach Terry Steiner noted that several young wrestlers beat veterans by significant margins, showing they weren't intimidated by their opponents or by the high-stakes setting.
"It's nice to see the young talent believing in themselves enough,'' Steiner said. "It's one thing having the talent. It's another thing believing in yourself on a big stage. That's what really surprised me more than anything, how they believed in themselves.
"They came out and performed. That's exciting to see.''
Former Gophers heavyweight Tony Nelson also made it to Saturday's consolation finals, where he faced an opponent who finally got the best of a Minnesota wrestler. Mason Parris of Michigan, who lost in the Big Ten and NCAA finals to current Gophers heavyweight Gable Steveson, topped Nelson 6-3 to claim third place.
Nelson lost a tough 4-3 decision to Dom Bradley in his opening match Friday, spoiling any chance of a matchup against Steveson. Nelson defeated another Minnesotan, Greg Kerkvliet, 3-1 to advance to the third-place match.
Stewartville native Eric Twohey (Greco-Roman 97 kg) advanced to the consolation semifinals when Jake Clark of St. Cloud forfeited, then lost 4-2 to Daniel Miller. Former Gopher Mitch McKee (men's freestyle 65 kg) went 1-1 Saturday, with a 13-3 victory and 14-4 loss.
Calvin Germinaro of Anoka (Greco-Roman 67 kg) was pinned by Nolan Baker in his lone consolation match Saturday, and former Gopher Sean Russell (men's freestyle 57 kg) lost 13-6 to Nathan Tomasello. Hayden Zillmer (men's freestyle 97 kg) forfeited his consolation bout.
Barrett Stanghill, a Montana native and member of the Minnesota Storm club, had to default after he was injured in the first period of his third-place match in the Greco-Roman 87 kg class.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and interviews before and/or after the event.