Four real?

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s wrestling team heads to the Big Ten Championships this weekend in a much different position than in the past years. The Gophers have tasted mediocrity this year. But wrestlers and coaches have said from day one that this season is a building process. The losses came, and the team rebounded. A five-match winning streak concluding in a road win over first-ranked Oklahoma State has proved the Gophers are ready for the postseason. Seemingly back on their game, its time for the Gophers to go for their fourth straight Big Ten title and prove that despite the uncharacteristic struggles, they are the team of old.

125 lbs. Sixth seed
Jr. Bobbe Lowe
(19-8, 3-2) No. 12

Top Seed: Luke Eustice, Iowa

Much like last year, Lowe didn’t have a great regular season. But he was an All-American in late March despite finishing sixth at Big Tens in 2003. He enters the tournament with a pair of solid victories in his last two matches. He followed up a 3-2 decision over Penn State’s 11th-ranked Ryan Smith on Feb. 20 with a 4-2 decision on Oklahoma State’s 18th-ranked Cody Stites two days later. The pair of victories were his first over ranked opponents this year. Lowe is also a guy who brings excitement to the postseason – five of his 12 tournament matches last season ended in pins.

133 lbs. Unseeded
Fr. Quincy Osborn
(19-14, 3-4) Unranked

Top Seed: Foley Dowd, Michigan

This weight was one of the weaker slots for the team this year. In his first season, Osborn has wrestled four times against top-10 opponents and managed just six individual points in those matches. Two of those losses came to Dowd – a 6-1 decision Jan. 17 and an 11-0 major decision a week later. If nothing else, Osborn’s last two matches have shown some improvement. He scored a 9-1 major decision over Indiana’s Nick Spatola on Feb. 7 and a 4-2 decision over Iowa’s Trent Goodale on Feb. 15. Osborn did not wrestle the last weekend of the regular season, but coach J Robinson said he should be ready to go in Columbus, Ohio.

141 lbs. Fourth seed
So. Tommy Owen
(23-11, 4-2) No. 18

Top seed: Cliff Moore, Iowa

Owen’s first season as a starter went relatively well, and his performance during the conference season is encouraging for the Big Ten tournament. Apart from the top three seeds, this is not a strong weight for the conference as a whole. On Feb. 7, Owen took third-seeded Coyte Cooper of Indiana to overtime before losing a 4-2 decision. And Owen is consistent – since the dual season began, he has lost just one match to an unranked opponent. He is also coming off a pair of victories in the duals versus the Lions and Cowboys.

149 lbs. Unseeded
Fr. Jeremy Anderson
(9-11, 1-4) Unranked

Top seed: Ryan Churella, Michigan

Any contribution from this weight will be a victory for the Gophers. On the season, the three 149-pounders who have wrestled for the Gophers are a combined 2-16 in duals. Both of those victories came from Anderson, a true freshman who filled in when junior Keri Stanley and redshirt freshman Thomas McAlpine both faltered. McAlpine has gotten the nod in the last three matches against Iowa, Penn State and Oklahoma State. But after running his dual record to 0-5 at 149, coaches decided to go with Anderson, whose only Big Ten win came over Indiana’s unseeded Cameron Sakon.

157 lbs. Sixth seed
So. Matt Nagel
(21-13, 4-4) No. 14

Top seed: Alex Tirapelle, Illinois

Nagel has to be a concern for anyone who wrestles him this postseason. He keeps matches close – especially against the best in the country. He gave each of the top two seeds fits earlier this year and beat the third seed. Against Tirapelle, the top-ranked 157-pounder in the nation, Nagel dropped a 3-1 decision in two overtimes. In a pair of matches with the Wolverines’ third-ranked Ryan Bertin, he lost 5-3 and 2-1. Nagel has been a break or two from beating both of them before, and looks like an extremely viable upset candidate this weekend. He was 0-2 at last year’s Big Tens, but he was wrestling at 184 pounds.

165 lbs. Second seed
Sr. Jacob Volkmann
(27-4, 4-0) No. 5

Top seed: John Clark, Ohio State

Volkmann might be the hottest wrestler on the team at this point in the season. The two-time All-American was on a roll before missing over a month with an eye socket injury. Since returning Feb. 6 against Illinois, he is undefeated. He also won a pair of huge matches the last weekend of the regular season. After pinning Penn State’s Jarrad Turner in just over a minute, he beat Oklahoma State’s undefeated and first-ranked Tyrone Lewis. Volkmann still has yet to face either Clark or co-second seed Pat Owen of Michigan, and it should be a race between the three of them.

174 lbs. Fourth seed
Jr. Jon Duncombe
(24-14, 5-3) No. 12

Top seed: Tyler Nixt, Iowa

The biggest and best surprise for the Gophers this year was the transfer from St. Cloud State. He saved them in big matches – closing out close victories over the first-ranked Cowboys and No. 2 Nebraska – and provided a turning point for their season with a pin of the Illini’s seventh-ranked Pete Friedl when the team was falling fast. Duncombe beat four ranked opponents during the Big Ten season and kept his losses close. Minnesota just better hope he doesn’t have to face Michigan’s R.J. Boudro. Duncombe has lost twice to Boudro, who is unranked and unseeded.

184 lbs. Eighth seed
Jr. Josh McLay
(18-19, 2-6) Unranked

Top seed: Brian Glynn, Illinois

After switching from 174 pounds before the dual season began, McLay has struggled to get the hang of things. But much like the rest of the team, he seems to have things headed in the right direction. An altered offensive style started paying off towards the end of the season. In his last three matches, McLay beat the Hawkeyes’ 13th-ranked Paul Bradley 2-1, lost 3-2 to the Lions’ Eric Bradley and made Oklahoma State defending national champion Jake Rosholt earn a 3-2 decision. Defense is no problem for McLay, but he hopes to score more points in the postseason.

197 lbs. First seed
Sr. Damion Hahn
(24-1, 6-0) No. 1

Top seed: Hahn

Consistently the top wrestler on the team, Hahn should have little trouble breezing through Big Tens for the third straight year – he won his sophomore year at 184 pounds and last year at 197. No conference opponent has given Hahn a legitimate challenge this year, and the only match he lost was one coaches said he shouldn’t have wrestled in because of his injured ribs. He’s a three-time All-American and the 2003 national champion at 197. The conference tournament should be some nice recreation for Hahn. Despite the pair of previous Big Ten championships, this is his first year as the favorite.

Heavyweight Fourth seed
Fr. Cole Konrad
(29-7, 6-2) No. 5

Top seed: Tommy Rowlands, Ohio State

The top five heavyweights in the Big Ten have been beating each other up all season. And it is probably the conference’s most competitive weight class without Iowa’s Steve Mocco, who is training for the Olympics. Konrad hasn’t wrestled Rowlands, is 0-2 versus Michigan’s second-seeded Greg Wagner, beat Penn State’s third-seeded Pat Cummins and split a pair of matches with Purdue’s Israel Blevins. First-ranked Rowlands is 36-1, but not invincible. Cummins beat him earlier this season, and Konrad handed Cummins just his second loss during the last weekend of the regular season.