One year removed from following up his 60-kilogram junior national title with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in the world team trials championship series, Gopher wrestler Mitch McKee enjoyed redemption by winning the decisive third match of this year’s world team trials to earn a spot on Team USA for this summer’s Junior World Championships in Finland.
The senior national team was also determined this weekend in Las Vegas, with Tony Nelson securing a spot on the squad with a third-place finish at 125 kg.
McKee clinched his first world junior team spot by taking two of three matches from Austin Gomez. The series provided the drama and skill befitting that of a national final. McKee, who was in the series by virtue of winning the 60 kg junior national title earlier this spring, came out looking like the favorite. He made short work of Gomez in a 10-0, first-period tech fall in the opening bout. To his credit, Gomez answered with a strong first period in the second match, building an early lead and hanging out to defeat McKee, 11-8, to force a rubber match. In that winner-take-all bout, McKee showed the championship poise that has helped him win a variety of prestigious cadet and junior titles. After falling behind 5-2 early, McKee shut down Gomez the rest of the way to win, 7-5, and seal his spot at Worlds.
Incoming Gopher Owen Webster wrestled at 84 kg and came out on fire early, going for first-period tech falls, 10-0 and 12-1, in his first two matches. Webster fell in the semifinals of the challenge bracket, ending his run toward the junior national team. He rallied from the defeat to win a pair of matches in wrestlebacks to claim third in the bracket.
On the senior side, the top performer was challenge-bracket finalist Tony Nelson, who reached the title bout at 125 kg. Nelson knocked off Justin Grant, 5-0, and then clipped Zach Rey on criteria, 1-1. Nelson fell in the challenge bracket final to Dom Bradley. Nelson dropped into a true third place match following that defeat, where he beat Iowa alum Bobby Telford, 4-1, to cement a spot on the 2017 national team.
Elsewhere among the older guys, Jayson Ness lost a 14-13, back-and-forth shootout with Cody Brewer in his opening match at 61 kg. Ness fell behind 4-0 off the whistle before going for nine straight points over the next 1:20. Brewer closed to 9-8 before the break, then jumped ahead 14-10 with two minutes remaining. Ness scored the next three, but fell one point short at the horn.
Dylan Ness competed at 70 kg, going 1-2 with a 9-6 win over Alec Pantaleo, and volunteer assistant coach Zach Sanders wrestled at 57 kg, where he dropped a nail-biter on the championship side, 2-0, to Nico Megaludis.
Two additional senior club wrestlers representing the Minnesota Storm competed in Las Vegas, with one pulling the rare double feat of making the national team in both Greco and freestyle. Hayden Zillmer already sealed a spot on the Greco national team by finishing second at trials last month at 98 kg. Wrestling at the same weight on Saturday, he recovered from a second-round loss to win five straight in wrestlebacks, a run that including winning a true third match over Micah Burak, to get a spot on the senior national team. Joe Rau also represented the Storm, competing at 86 kg.
The 2017 Junior World Championships will be held the first week of August in Tampere, Finland. The World Championships will follow a few weeks later, beginning on Aug. 21 in Paris.
It may by the college wrestling offseason, but there’s no offseason for the Gopher Wrestling program. Whether it’s to hear the latest news about Gopher coaches or athletes during the summer months, or just for general news about the program, GopherSports.com is your home for Gopher Wrestling news. Be sure to follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates.
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