Grappler’s friendly ‘pin war’ ignites 46-4 dismantling

by Brian Stensaas

There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition among friends. Or teammates, for that matter.

Embedded in Minnesota wrestling’s 46-4 thumping of Virginia Tech on Sunday at Williams Arena was an ongoing pins war among the Gophers’ wrestlers. They aim to gain not only the fastest pin but to inch ever closer to former wrestler Marty Morgan’s team record of 20 pins in a single season.

In the second half of Sunday’s match, No. 3 Minnesota showed the 1,841 in attendance this pin thing is for real.

In what was possibly one of the quickest second halves of wrestling, the Gophers (2-1) earned three pins along with a forfeit and a disqualification win down the stretch to claim the lopsided team victory.

While coach J Robinson said he’s seen faster matches in his storied wrestling tenure, the quick work of the Hokies pleased the 17-year coaching veteran.

“We haven’t been too enthusiastic or aggressive lately, and it was important for our guys to go out and wrestle hard,” Robinson said. “One of the most exciting matches I was ever in took 47 minutes. People like to see a lot of pins; it gets them excited. That’s what wrestling is all about.”

The match started at 174 pounds with sophomore Josh McLay earning a technical fall over Tomas Ovalle 18-2 in the second period. Virginia Tech (0-1) earned its only points at 184 when Scott Justus scored a major decision over Casey Flaherty 21-8. Justus, ranked seventh at the weight, is the Hokies’ only rated wrestler.

The Gophers’ 197-pounder Jacob Liniger got Minnesota back on the winning track when he earned an 11-2 major decision win over Canaan Prater. At heavyweight, Chad Mentel notched a 4-2 win over Kris Wiedegreen.

Mentel normally wrestles at 197 for the Gophers but was bumped up to fill in for Garrett Lowney who underwent shoulder surgery last month. Mentel, who weighed in at 200 pounds Sunday, lasted the full seven-minute period while a much flabbier Weidegreen clearly ran out of steam.

“That was the strategy, to get him tired,” Mentel said. “I tried to stay away from underneath him because he was so heavy and then was able to score in the third period.

“I wasn’t sure about wrestling (at heavyweight) at first, but I kind of like it actually.”

Robinson said Lowney is progressing well and should be ready for the Jan. 3 dual against top-ranked Oklahoma State.

After Bobbe Lowe gave the Gophers a 16-4 lead with his 18-8 major decision win over Geoff Head at 125, the two teams broke for intermission. Only one was repaired.

Fourth-ranked Ryan Lewis pinned Kyle Graham 4:21 into his match at 133 while 141-pounder Trent Hatlevig matted Aaron Brown at 5:43.

Top-ranked Jared Lawrence completed the pin hat-trick when he took care of Reed Carpenter a mere 1:58 into his match at 149. After No. 1 Luke Becker was awarded at forfeit at 157, Hokies’ 165-pounder Mike Cox was disqualified for stalling, giving No. 3 Jacob Volkmann the six-point win and the Gophers the overwhelming victory.

With the conference season less than two months away and the heralded National Duals waiting in the wings, Minnesota welcomed the convincing dual win. Especially after the season-opening defeat against Iowa on Nov. 15.

“We wanted to set a precedent right away,” Lewis said. “It’s kind of now or never. We either have to get after it now or just watch the season go by. We want to send the message out that we’re for real.”

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]