The chronology seems backwards.
Dustin Schlatter’s college wrestling career couldn’t have started any better. The four-time high school state champion from Ohio won the 2006 national title at 149 pounds as a freshman.
The following year, a perfect season was derailed by the most agonizing of margins. Regardless, his third-place finish was a critical piece of the Gophers’ 2007 national title.
Schlatter’s junior year was riddled by hamstring and knee injuries. He missed six weeks and the majority of the Big Ten dual season. Still hampered in the national tournament, he scratched out a seventh-place finish.
A year ago, he made the decision to redshirt what would have been his senior season . His return to the Gophers will be at 165 pounds and is slated for Friday at No. 3 Oklahoma State against talented freshman Alex Meade.
First to third to seventh — each All-American finishes — may not appear a precipitous drop. But after his first national championship, Schlatter’s goal was four straight. Now, bracketing his career with them is the only remaining option, and Schlatter, who is ranked No. 1 nationally at 165 pounds, will be happy with nothing less as he enters his senior season.
“Anything less than a national title for me would be a disappointment,” he said. “I’ve been there and I’ve tasted it, and I really want a second national title.”
Schlatter arrived on campus believing he could immediately win a national championship. The rest of the country probably started believing it too in the course of eight days in January 2006. Ranked No. 7 at 149 pounds, Schlatter knocked off then-No. 2 Jon Masa of Hofstra and then-No. 1 Zack Esposito in a weekend. The following Sunday, a now-ranked-No.2 Schlatter recorded a 4-1 decision over the new top-ranked wrestler at 149 pounds, Iowa’s Ty Eustice. Schlatter lost neither the No. 1 ranking nor a match the rest of the year.
“I think a lot of people looking in were shocked at my success, but for me, it was no surprise,” Schlatter said of his national title. “That was my goal.”
Conspicuously affixed with the national champion label, Schlatter quickly turned from the hunter to the hunted during his sophomore season.
“There wasn’t a lot of pressure [on him] as a freshman because he wasn’t expected to do it, but after that, there was a big target on his back,” head assistant coach Joe Russell said.
He handled it well. Undefeated through the regular season and the Big Ten championship, where he claimed his second straight title, Schlatter advanced to the semifinals but lost a 3-2 decision to Edinboro’s Gregor Gillespie. Though Schlatter called the loss “extremely disappointing,” he rebounded with two straight wins and an important third place finish which helped propel Minnesota to the national title that had eluded it a year earlier.
During that sophomore season, the groundwork was laid for the injuries that would force him to miss significant time during his junior season. Schlatter was battling knee issues heading into the tournament in March. How much it hampered him, he’s not sure. In December of the same year, knee and hamstring injuries sidelined him for six weeks. He returned in time for the Big Ten tournament and in time to exacerbate those injuries in a 5-3 finals loss to Iowa’s Brent Metcalf.
“At that point, it’s not like you take any time off,” Schlatter said. “The national tournament is coming up, and you’re going to wrestle in the national tournament however you are. It doesn’t matter what injuries you have, that’s the big show.”
He dropped again at the tournament, this time to seventh — another “extreme disappointment.”
Schlatter underwent surgery in the summer of 2008 and decided to redshirt the 2008-09 season. The time was not wasted, however. He worked at the Olympic Training Facility, competed in numerous international tournaments and wrestled with the U.S. national team at the World Wrestling Championships in Denmark in September.
This brings him to the precipice of his final collegiate season. A year and a half removed from college wrestling, Schlatter said he’s energized and excited to return to Minnesota’s lineup.
“It’s been awhile,” Schlatter said. “I want to come back and prove that I’m still the best and that all the training I did [in the last year] paid off.”
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