Safratowich denied a chance at NCAAs by Big Ten coaches

Trevor Born

Of the 10 Gophers who wrestled in the Big Ten tournament last weekend, nine qualified for the NCAA championships.

The only wrestler who didn’t was Tyler Safratowich, ranked No. 11 in the country and a three-seed in the tournament. Safratowich said he simply didn’t win enough matches to qualify, but it’s more complicated than that.

To qualify for the NCAA tournament, which will be held March 20-22 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Big Ten wrestlers only need to finish in the top seven for their weight in the conference tournament. The Big Ten gets the most spots in the national tournament because it is generally regarded as the nation’s toughest conference.

Safratowich was upset three times in the tournament and finished eighth. He was pinned in his final match by unseeded Jake Donar of Wisconsin, who he beat earlier this season.

“I don’t know what happened,” Safratowich said. “I just let nerves get to me and had a bad tournament.”

But the Big Ten also gets to send two alternates to the national tournament, which is decided by a coaches’ vote directly after the tournament. Safratowich was the highest-seeded wrestler who didn’t qualify, and “a no-brainer pick,” according to Gophers head coach J Robinson.

Safratowich came up one vote short, however. The coaches picked 149-pound Kurt Kinser of Indiana and 125-pound Mark McKnight of Penn State.

Kinser finished 2-6 against Big Ten opponents, compared to 7-1 for Safratowich. Kinser’s weight class is often regarded as one of the deepest in wrestling history, which played a big role in the decision.

“Everybody can vote how they want, but they got this one wrong,” Robinson said. “I don’t know what was going through their heads. They voted in a guy that wasn’t even ranked (Kinser).

“What needs to happen is for someone to call all those coaches and ask them straight up, ‘Who did you vote for? Why?’ Call them and put them on the spot. If they didn’t vote for Tyler, ask them what the hell they’re doing. Because if nobody does, then they’re just going to do this sh-t again to somebody else next year.”

According to Robinson, the teams that did vote for Safratowich were Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. Les Steenlage, an NCAA official in charge of the voting, could not be reached to confirm this information.

“The coaches are trying to stay positive about it, but it’s hard,” Safratowich said. “It’s a hard thing. I didn’t win when I needed to and I put my fate in someone else’s hands, and they decided I didn’t deserve it.”

Ness falls in rankings

Sophomore Jayson Ness dropped to No. 2 in the rankings this week for the first time all season, but will still get a top seed at the national tournament.

Ness was upset by fiery Angel Escobedo from Indiana in the 125-pound championship match of the Big Ten championships. It was his first loss since last year’s NCAA championships – a streak of 37-straight wins and the second longest active streak in Division I.

“I think a lot of guys in our weight class were starting to think he couldn’t be beat,” Escobedo said after the match. “Now we know he can.”

Ness leads the team in pins, major decisions and points scored this season. His 18 pins are just two short of the team record, held by current assistant coach Marty Morgan.