Gable Steveson didn’t waste any time feeling sorry for himself after losing in the heavyweight title match at the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers freshman knew if he was going to make the most of his next chance, he needed to move on immediately.
Steveson had 11 days to prepare for this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh — and perhaps a rematch against Penn State’s Anthony Cassar, who dealt him the first loss of his college career in the Big Ten final at Williams Arena.
After entering the league championships with the top seed and No. 1 ranking, Steveson (30-1) is seeded third at the NCAA meet, behind No. 2 Cassar (25-1) and No. 1 Derek White of Oklahoma State (28-1).
Steveson must win four matches to reach the title bout and would meet Cassar in Friday’s semifinals if both advance. That also could set up a rematch with White, whose only loss this season came to Steveson.
The Gophers will send eight wrestlers to the tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at PPG Paints Arena. Penn State leads the field with three top-seeded wrestlers, including 174-pounder Mark Hall of Apple Valley, and is favored to win its eighth NCAA team title in the past nine years.
Steveson starts fresh
Steveson, of Apple Valley, has been the nation’s top-ranked heavyweight for much of the season. He was favored to win the Big Ten title, but he was not aggressive enough against Cassar, leading to the end of his 30-match win streak.
Cassar, a senior, scored two points on a takedown with 20 seconds remaining to rally for a 4-3 victory. Gophers coach Brandon Eggum hoped the loss would remind Steveson that he has to pursue points rather than play defense. Steveson begins the NCAA tournament Thursday against No. 30 seed Colton McKiernan of Southern Illinois Edwardsville (21-12).
“I told him, ‘That’s the great thing. You’ve got a chance now to learn from this and grow from it,’ ” Eggum said. “Now, you’ve got to go back, and you’ve got to earn it.”
Cassar has a streak of his own, with a 20-0 career record against Big Ten opponents. Asked how he plans to approach the tournament, Steveson said he will stay true to the style that brought him here.
“Just keep doing me; do what I do,” he said. “There’s a chip there, but [Cassar] knows I’m coming again. I know he’s coming again. We’re going to see each other.”
Gophers ready to go
Five other Gophers are seeded in the top 10: Sean Russell (No. 6, 125 pounds); Ethan Lizak (No. 6, 133); Mitch McKee (No. 7, 141); Devin Skatzka (No. 9, 174) and Steve Bleise (No. 10, 157). Russell, Lizak and Skatzka earned third-place finishes at the Big Ten Championships, while McKee placed fourth.
Eggum was happy with the Gophers’ fourth-place finish in the team race, believing it set them up well for the NCAA meet. The Gophers’ last individual NCAA champ was heavyweight Tony Nelson in 2013, and the team’s last top-10 finish was a seventh-place showing in 2017.
Making his mark
Hall (26-0) won the NCAA crown in 2017 but lost in the finals last season to top-seeded Zahid Valencia of Arizona State. Over the past two seasons, the junior is 58-1 with back-to-back Big Ten titles.
The six-time state high school champ at Apple Valley has a playful side. After winning his second Big Ten championship, he pulled a recorder — a flutelike musical instrument — from his gym bag and played “Hot Cross Buns” during a live television interview, which earned a donation for a childhood cancer charity. Expect Hall to be all business in Pittsburgh.