DETROIT — Gophers star Gable Steveson advanced to the 285-pound division’s championship match at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Friday night, but only after surviving his two toughest matches of the season.
Steveson, a senior from Apple Valley, turned back Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet, a sophomore from Inver Grove Heights, 8-3 in the semifinals in a match much closer than the final score suggests. Kerkvliet was the aggressor in the match, perhaps because of Steveson’s respect for his opponent going back to their high school days.
Steveson (16-0), the defending NCAA champion and 2021 Olympic gold medalist who has won his past 51 collegiate matches, and Kerkvliet (21-3), a former world junior champion from Simley High School, were tied 2-2 heading into the third and final period. That’s when Steveson finally took control, scoring one point on an escape to open the 2-minute period, four points on two takedowns and one point on riding time.
“Growing up wrestling him, he’s tough,” Steveson said of Kerkvliet. “He’s going to be on top one day.”
Steveson also had a close call in his third-round match against Kizhan Clarke of North Carolina. Clarke started the match with a takedown — the first takedown Steveson has allowed all season. But Steveson steadily took control after that, winning 10-5.
Friday’s two matches were the first time all season Steveson hasn’t won by technical fall.
Steveson will meet No. 2 seed Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State in Saturday’s championship match. Schultz outlasted Jordan Wood of Lehigh in the other semifinal, winning 5-3 in overtime.
Two other Gophers wrestlers locked up All-America status on Friday — Patrick McKee at 125 pounds and Jakob Bergeland at 141 pounds.
Bergeland, a senior from Hugo, Minn., who wrestled at Centennial High School, lost his quarterfinal bout on Friday afternoon, but bounced back to win his opening consolation match to advance to the final eight wrestlers in his weight class.
McKee, a junior from St. Michael, Minn., reeled off four consecutive consolation victories after losing in Thursday’s first round to reach the final eight in his division.
Bergeland and McKee resume action on Saturday morning with the hopes of finishing as high as third place in their weight division.