ASHLAND — When the Southern Oregon University wrestling team squares off against Pacific tonight, fans on hand would do well to bring a camcorder. After all, it will be their last opportunity at Bob Riehm Arena to witness the greatness of Mitchell Lofstedt, the 125-pound juggernaut who will likely go down as the greatest wrestler in the Raiders' illustrious history.
Southern Oregon hosts Pacific in the senior day match at 6 p.m. The Raiders will look to avenge a 27-18 loss to the Boxers two weeks ago.
Lofstedt (26-1) has only surpassed the already sky-high expectations that come along with his family name since arriving at SOU out of Roseburg High School in 2009. He broke his dad's (Brent Lofstedt) record for single-season pins as a sophomore, his brother's (Trevor) record for career pins as a junior and now is just padding a list of records that may never be eclipsed. Lofstedt is SOU's all-time leader in wins (145) and pins (75), including 16 this season, and has the highest winning percentage among SOU wrestlers with at least 80 victories. If he lives up to his No. 1 ranking at nationals in three weeks he'll become one of just 25 NAIA wrestlers to claim at least three national titles (Lofstedt would be going for a fourth national title if not for a loss in the 125-pound championship match in 2009, his freshman season).
"He's got a little work to do, but I think if he wins a third national title it will be hard to argue that point," said SOU head coach Mike Ritchey when asked if Lofstedt is the best Raider ever. "And if for some reason he doesn't, he's still in the conversation for sure. I think he's definitely left his mark on the program, though, no doubt."
Lofstedt himself isn't all that interested in the legacy he'll leave behind, or the staggering numbers. Best to look forward, he says, not back.
"Well, I don't really think about that stuff," said Lofstedt, a finalist for the Ad Rutschman Small College Athlete of the Year Award, which will be handed out at the 61st Annual Oregon Sports Awards ceremony Sunday in Beaverton. "It just kind of gets you bogged down, so I don't let my mind get caught up in it. I try to focus on nationals and winning nationals for the team and getting team points."
Lofstedt would love to go out on top, both in his weight class and in the team competition, and it could happen this year. The Raiders are ranked second nationally and boast 10 ranked wrestlers, including three No. 1's — Lofstedt, Prescott Garner at 133 and Brock Gutches at 174.
Southern Oregon has won four national titles, but none since Lofstedt joined the team. The Raiders have come very close in recent years, however, placing second three of the previous four seasons.
Lofstedt certainly has done his part. He went 43-6 with a then school-record 24 pins as a sophomore and 39-2 with a school-record 26 pins as a junior, finishing both of those seasons with national championship-clinching wins. At the 2012 national championships, Lofstedt pinned four of the five wrestlers he faced, including a 1 minute, 6-second romp over Kory Kistner of Morningside in the title bout.
If he does it again this season, the Raiders may wind up with their fifth championship banner.
"I really hope so," he said. "I've been putting it all in. We've got a good team and I know we can do it, all the pieces just have to fall into place. I think we're due for a national title."
Lofstedt has all the characteristics of a great wrestler and employs an aggressive, no-rest style that overwhelms most opponents. He boasts outstanding quickness, impressive strength that seems impossible for a 125-pounder and the technique of somebody who grew up as the baby in a wrestling family, which of course he did. And the bad news for opponents is that Lofstedt's attention to detail, his focus on the nuances of the sport actually increased following the one-year break he took from the sport in 2010-11.
After winning his first national title, he left SOU to play guitar for a rock and roll band. When the itch to wrestle again returned, so did Lofstedt, but with a new sense of purpose.
"I was more appreciative," Lofstedt said. "I found a new love for the sport kind of, a new viewpoint. Just getting out of it and being in the real world, I really missed wrestling a lot. Before, I could just complain all the time, about cutting weight, about the schedule, the practices, but after I came back I didn't. I enjoyed being here and being in the (practice gym), the road trips, the memories."
Ritchey noticed the change, too.
"I think before he was wrestling for the results," Ritchey said, "and now he really enjoys the process of practicing throughout the season and everything about the sport."