Wrestlers win twice to open Big Ten

by Sarah Mitchell

The 2nd-ranked Gophers wrestling team has yet to put its entire starting line-up on the mat for a single dual meet. With injuries, illness and an unsettled weight class, Minnesota’s team has not quite reached coach J Robinson’s expectations.
But as a top-ranked team, a few question marks won’t prevent Minnesota (7-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten) from being competitive. With No. 11 Chad Erikson (141) and Delaney Berger (174) out for the weekend and No. 1 Chad Kraft (157) missing from Friday’s lineup, the Gophers still tallied two Big Ten dual meet wins.
Minnesota defeated No. 10 Michigan 23-17 on Friday and No. 14 Michigan State 27-10 on Sunday.
“This weekend is going to boost everyone’s confidence,” Gophers 125-pounder Leroy Vega said. “It’s progress.”
No. 5 Josh Holiday (165) and No. 1 Brandon Eggum (174) earned Robinson’s praise on Sunday, showing improvement from previous matches. The two were more aggressive on the mats, sacrificing escape points to their opponents for a shot at an immediate takedown.
“For Eggum, I think it’s been an attitude thing,” Robinson said. “And Holiday is learning how to scramble. He’s working hard and it’s paying off.”
For Spartans coach Tom Minkel, the payoff is still another season away. Minkel said his team is at the beginning of the rebuilding cycle and in time could resemble the 1999 Gophers team.
“We’re a very young team, with only three upper-classmen,” Minkel said. “Minnesota is really maturing right now. We still have to deal with the intimidation factor. Right now we sit in the middle of the Big Ten talent-wise. Where we want to be is up there with Iowa and Minnesota.”
Friday’s match against No. 10 Michigan was ugly — literally. Three Wolverines were constantly forced off the mat with bloodied noses. But the Gophers grapplers remained focused, spurred by an upset at the 125 pound weight class.
Gophers freshman Leroy Vega (No. 14) decisioned No. 7 Chris Viola 6-5 in what proved to be a necessary victory. With reserves scattered throughout Minnesota’s lineup, the score was deadlocked at 17 heading into the last match.
But the final match-up happened to be the battle of the heavyweights, shifting all favor to Minnesota’s side.
The Gophers’ 2nd-ranked Brock Lesnar pounded the mat, pinning his fifth consecutive opponent. Using a cradle move, Lesnar locked onto the Wolverines’ Matt Brink — who was back on the mat for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery — and brought him down in 2:20.
“Brink’s a little rusty,” Wolverines coach Dale Bahr said. “I’m not saying Matt could stay on the mat with Brock, but he’s just getting back into everything.”
The Gophers hit the road next weekend, revisiting Carver-Hawkeye Arena and No. 3 Iowa on Saturday before traveling to No. 25 Wisconsin on Sunday. Minnesota’s starting line-up might finally come together on Saturday, when the Hawkeyes seek revenge for a 21-14 defeat to the Gophers in the championship semifinals at the National Duals last weekend, bringing relief to Robinson.
“It’s going to be a fight,” Robinson said. “They don’t like to be embarrassed in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.”