Two grapplers must battle for 165-pound spot

by Anthony Maggio

As the regular season comes to a close this weekend for the defending national champion Minnesota wrestling team, coach J Robinson is putting the final touches on his top-ranked line-up.

The Gophers face fourth-ranked Ohio State on Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, their season finale and senior day. But the focus this week is on a redshirt freshman and a junior.

Redshirt freshman Nate Baker and 16th ranked junior John Hardy have shared the starting role at 165 pounds this season. Junior Mitch Marr made two dual meet appearances. However, Robinson must decide on only one grappler for Big Tens and Nationals.

“We’re trying to find out what we’re going to do,” Robinson said. “We’ll decide what we’re going to do sometime this week.”

Baker and Hardy will likely have a best two-out-of-three wrestle off during practice this week to determine who starts the rest of the season.

Both Baker and Hardy have wrestled in eight duals this season, with Baker compiling a 3-5 (1-3 Big Ten) record and Hardy tallying a 4-4 (2-1) mark.

The last three starts have gone to Baker, and he is 1-2 in those matches. However, both losses were to top 20 opponents, including a six-point decision to third-ranked Matt Lackey of Illinois.

Robinson said Baker’s strong weekend helps his cause to start the rest of the way.

“I think I wrestled really tough this weekend, especially today against Lackey,” Baker said Sunday after wrestling in the Wisconsin and Illinois dual meets.

“I felt good, I knew coming in (against Lackey) that it was going to be a tough match. But I didn’t have anything to lose so I just went out and wrestled as hard as I could.”

Hardy was scheduled to wrestle against Lackey on Sunday, but did not compete because he was sick. His last appearance was against Northwestern on Feb. 8th, when he lost to unranked Ryan Kane 13-7.

Hardy’s last victory came against Iowa’s unranked Cory Connell on Feb. 1 in the Border Brawl. Hardy earned a 14-5 major decision.

Baker and Hardy have both made cases for themselves to compete in the postseason, but only one gets the opportunity.

If you don’t get in there and you’ve worked all this time, it’s a disappointment,” Baker said. “But at the same time it’s a great chance for me to get in there and show I can wrestle with everyone else.”

Erikson returning to lineup

Ninth-ranked Chad Erikson hasn’t wrestled since the Border Brawl versus Iowa on Feb. 1, but will be returning to his starting position for the postseason, and possibly for Sunday’s matchup with Ohio State.

The 141-pound senior from Apple Valley has been sitting out this month to rest his body in preparation for the Big Ten and NCAA championships, but is completely healthy.

Part of the reason Erikson needed to rest was the wear on his body from trying to make weight.

“I wouldn’t say that’s all of it,” Erikson said. “They try to get us to peak at the end of the year and (sitting out) worked well for me last year, so (the coaches) are trying it out again.”

Whether Erikson will start on Sunday or not is still up in the air. Erikson said he has some input on the decision, but it is not his call.

Robinson will make his decision later this week, basing it on whether wrestling on Sunday will help Erikson in preparation for the Big Tens.