Wrestling is brutal on the body; it’s common for wrestlers to participate while dealing with aches and pains. Junior Mitch McKee has taken this to the extreme, fighting back from severe injury to quickly get back into the Minnesota lineup.
This isn't new for McKee. He has had his fair share of injuries in his three years wrestling for the Gophers. The St. Michael, Minnesota native has torn his meniscus three times since joining the wrestling team: twice on his right knee and most recently on his left.
His latest meniscus injury occurred shortly before winter break, but McKee said he did not know it was torn at first.
“I knew my knee was hurting, but I didn’t know it was torn until we left for the Air Force dual,” McKee said.
Ultimately, McKee had his meniscus removed and missed two matches.
Although he only missed four weeks, he decided that he was going to return to wrestling despite his sore knee at the two-day South Beach Duals in late December. McKee returned in convincing fashion as he pinned Luke Karam of Lehigh in just 2:16 on the opening day of the tournament.
“My knee was still hurting pretty bad, but I knew I wanted to wrestle,” McKee said. “Getting that pin right away felt really good.”
McKee is ranked at No. 7 in the NCAA in the 141-pound weight class with an 11-1 record so far this season. His first loss of the year occurred just hours after making his initial return at the South Beach Duals. He attributed the loss to exhaustion and mistakes that ended up costing him the match.
“I got a little tired and I hadn’t wrestled in four weeks, so I was fatigued and didn’t wrestle very well,” McKee said.
Despite the loss, McKee has stormed back since the injury. He has wrestled his way to a 6-1, including a victory against No. 4 Iowa.
“It’s not easy coming back from an injury.” said Gophers head coach Brandon Eggum. “It’s nice that he has had a lot of success in his time coming back, but there’s still work to be done.”
McKee has performed well at the 141-pound weight class since being moved up from the 133-pound class, which he wrestled in during his first two seasons. Eggum attributes this success to McKee's understanding of the fundamentals.
“The thing he’s doing well at now is his basic skills,” Eggum said.
Even with his success , McKee believes he can improve. He aims to be an All-American and an NCAA champion, which he said he has devoted his life to since learning he would be switching weight classes.
The Gophers return to action Jan. 25 against Wisconsin.
The Gophers finished undefeated at the South Beach Duals, which included North Carolina, Lehigh, Kentucky State and Utah Valley.
Minnesota has opened the Big Ten season 1-1 after a 22-15 victory over Rutgers on Jan. 6 and a 24-10 loss to No. 4 Iowa in the first sell-out at the Maturi Pavilion for Gophers wrestling since 2004.