ST. LOUIS -- It wasn’t for a national championship, but Robert Kokesh and Logan Storley fought for third place -- and South Dakota bragging rights.
Kokesh, a senior Nebraska wrestler from Wagner, and Storley, a senior Minnesota wrestler and Webster graduate, had faced each other various times throughout their career.
The pair of friends took the mat one last time on Saturday in the 174-pound third place match at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Kokesh defeated Storley in sudden victory 6-4.
“We were tied 3-3 going into that match throughout our college career,” Kokesh said. “It’s nice to finish 4-3 over him.”
This was the third time they met in the third-place match in the NCAA championships. Kokesh defeated Storley two years ago, while Storley won last year when Kokesh -- a year when Kokesh wrestled through a torn ACL.
“It’s tough to wrestle a guy like that,” Kokesh said. “We know each other so well. It’s just the way it is. The next match could always be completely different. That’s what’s great about wrestling, you never know what to expect.”
While many fans from South Dakota were hoping for a Kokesh and Storley national championship, both were defeated in their quarterfinal matchup. Kokesh, the top-ranked wrestler, lost to Pittsburgh’s Tyler Wilps 3-2 on Friday, while Storley fell in a tiebreaker to Iowa’s Michael Evans 2-1.
“It’s just the way it is,” Kokesh said. “It’s wrestling. You’re going to see upsets here all the time. This bracket never plays out the way it’s supposed to.”
Storley won a 9-7 tiebreaker over Oregon State’s Kyle Crutchmer in his first wrestleback match of the day, while Kokesh beat Evans in sudden victory 6-4.
Those wins set up the match that every South Dakota wrestling fan in attendance was hoping for.
“I think there’s a lot of things involved with that match,” Minnesota head coach J Robinson said. “There’s a lot of history between them, and they’re great competitors. I’m sure that in some little deal, they both know they’re going a different way from wrestling, and they both wanted to have bragging rights in essence. It was their last match in the NCAAs, and they wanted to go out winners. The expectations and the intensity was super high.”
Kokesh said he was determined to win his last match not only for himself, but for his family who came to watch.
“They’ve been traveling all over the country to watch me wrestle,” Kokesh said. “My dad and my family really enjoy this. This is something that they’re not going to be a part of anymore because I’m the last kid in college. This win was for them.”