DES MOINES, Iowa – Columbia senior wrestler Steve Santos brought his prolific career to a close Saturday with a pair of victories to claim third place at the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships. In front of a sellout crowd of 16,131 at the Wells Fargo Arena, Santos picked up a pair of decisions to claim the best individual finish in Columbia wrestling history.
“Coming out today I wanted to wrestle strong, wrestle my best and getting these two wins is a great way to end my career,” said Santos in the tunnel following the third-place bout. “Representing Columbia is a great experience for me. We have a great support system and our coaches are great. I believed in them and going out there and getting to represent my team and being the highest finisher just shows all the hard work we put in.”
“Steve, he deserves it,” said Andrew F. Barth Head Coach of Wrestling Carl Fronhofer after Santos’ victory. “I’ve never been around a kid that works the way he does and competes as hard as he does.”
After winning his first bout in the wrestleback semifinals, Santos earned the right to compete for third against Minnesota’s Dylan Ness, the sixth seed, in the third-place bout.
Ness (20-6), the Big 10 champion at 149 pounds, reached the third-place match through the wrestleback bracket after falling in the round of 16 to Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt. After winning four bouts after the loss, a rematch with Houdashelt was set for the wrestleback quarterfinals. This time it was Ness that came away with the decision, 5-2, sending Houdashelt home and setting up the bout against Santos.
Santos and Ness wrestled the first three minutes of the bout to a 2-2 tie. Santos tallied the first two points with a takedown 58 seconds in, but Ness responded with a reversal in the final minute of the first period. In the second period, Santos choose to start on the bottom, which proved to be the perfect strategy as he scored a reversal 31 seconds in. He would ride the rest of the period out and take 1:41 of riding time into the final two minutes.
Santos extended his lead to 6-2 10 seconds into the third period with his second takedown of the bout. Santos would continue to add riding time until the last 10 seconds when Ness finally escaped, but it would be too late for the Gopher. Santos would tack on the riding time point for the 7-3 decision.
After the bout, Santos was asked whether he believed the win was more important to him our the program.
“I think its equally weighted. Definitely for me I wanted to go out on top and finishing with a win is great, but I think it definitely shows a lot about our program, how tough we are. I’m happy I got to represent my school and to just show Columbia can wrestle out there with the best.”
In his first match of the day and with a trip to the third-place match on the line, Santos went up against the seventh-seed, Scott Sakaguchi from Oregon State, in the wrestleback semifinals. The first meeting between the two wrestlers started out in favor of Sakaguchi.
After the first 90 seconds passed without any scoring, Sakaguchi was able to get Santos to the mat and score two points with a takedown. Santos was able to wrestle free 18 seconds later and the grapplers wrestled out the remaining time on their feet.
The second period cleared without any scoring, but Santos was able to accumulate 1:41 of riding time. In the final stanza, it was all Santos, as he wasted little time setting up Sakaguchi for a reversal just 16 seconds in. The Columbia senior showed his strength and endurance over the remainder of the period, riding Sakaguchi out to bring the final score to 4-2 to set up the third-place bout against Ness.
Santos finishes his record-setting career with 91 total victories. The two-time NCAA qualifier is the fifth All-American to wear the Columbia blue and white and first since Matt Palmer finished eighth in 2007. Prior to the 2013 NCAA Championships, Bob Hartman’s fourth-place showing was the highest Columbia finisher in program history.
In team scoring, Columbia tallied 17 points to finish the 2013 NCAA Championships in 26th out of 66 teams.