No. 2 wrestlers look to pound

by Sarah Mitchell

Wrestling in only his second collegiate dual meet, 5-foot-2 Leroy Vega is sure to meet a monster.
No. 1 Oklahoma State will pound the Williams Arena mats on Sunday, and in the 125-pound weight class the freshman is scheduled to meet defending national champion Teague Moore.
“I want to wrestle first,” Vega said. “I want to go out there and give it to him.”
Due to changed NCAA rules, the meet order no longer flows from the lightest weight to heavyweight, meaning that Vega’s weight class will no longer start off the meet. This season, one weight class will be randomly selected and the competition will move down the list from there.
Gophers assistant coach Marty Morgan said he was somewhat relieved that Vega has only a 1-in-10 chance of starting the match off. After Vega’s performance last Saturday in a dual meet at Division II North Dakota State, Morgan was disappointed with Vega’s performance. The Bisons’ Ryan Lewis decisioned Vega 16-5.
“I ended up not watching my weight; I didn’t eat right and I deserved it,” Vega said.
All-American and national champion Tim Hartung, who is scheduled to face Cowboys 13th-ranked Pat Popolizo at 197 pounds, offered the inexperienced Vega some advice.
“He’s just going to have to wrestle with a lot of excitement and emotion,” Hartung said. “His strategy is to wear him out.”
Tired might describe the Cowboys by the time they ride into Minneapolis on Sunday. Besides having the home mat advantage, the Gophers will have the luxury of being the more rested team.
Oklahoma State is set to wrestle on the road against unranked Wisconsin on Friday.
“I don’t think they’re worrying much about Wisconsin,” Vega said. “In practice, they probably focus on us.”
While in the wrestling room this week, the Gophers concentrated more on strengthening their downfalls rather than working on strategies to counterattack the Cowboys style.
The techniques of each team offer a study in contrasts. Oklahoma State likes to battle low to the ground while working the outside edges of the mat. The Gophers style is more aggressive, preferring to immediately get a hold on their opponents.
“The thing about Oklahoma State, the guys wrestle real smart,” assistant coach Mark Schwab said. “We don’t want to change our style, but we have to be aware of theirs.”
Owning the top spot in the nation and returning four All-Americans and two national champions, Oklahoma State looks like a favorite. But the Gophers are ranked No. 2 and have two All-Americans and one national title defender on their roster.
For this reason, Hartung said the gap between this year’s top two teams is minimal.
“We’re expecting to win and I think if you expect to win you don’t look at it that way,” Hartung said. “If we lose, the fans might think, ‘They’re not there yet.’ But from our standpoint, we’re not affected because what happens in March is what matters.”
An individual upset by Minnesota, especially one early in the meet, will definitely help the team’s cause.
“I think it will be one hell of a dual meet,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “Oklahoma State is usually ready early, but we are ahead of where we planned to be.”