U wrestlers match up for NCAA wrestling tourney

Coming off a dual meet loss to top-ranked Iowa, and a second-place finish at the Big Ten championships, the second-ranked Gophers wrestling team has its back against the wall.
Minnesota is going to have to step it up this weekend if the Gophers are going to take home their first-ever NCAA team title.
Coach J Robinson said the nine Gophers wrestlers who qualified for the national championship in St. Louis all need to wrestle better than their ability if Minnesota has any chance to take home the trophy.
“The key for us is that we have to wrestle above our seeds,” Robinson said. “We can’t focus on our seeds, we have to focus on wrestling our best.”
Here is a weight-by-weight look at this weekend’s tournament, and who the nine Gophers will be up against. The rankings are taken from InterMat.
Leroy Vega
125 Pounds
Ranking: 3rd
Just like the Big Ten tournament, Vega will get a three seed. Jody Strittmatter of Iowa and Jeremy Hunter of Penn State seem to be too much of a match for the sophomore, but a third-place finish would certainly help Minnesota.
Brett Lawrence
133 pounds
Ranking: 14th
Lawrence has a tough tourney ahead of him. The junior is one of those guys Robinson said will have to wrestle above his seeding if he wants to finish in the top eight and earn an All-America honor, in the process helping the team.
Jared Lawrence
149 pounds
Ranking: 4th
Only a freshman, Lawrence just missed a Big Ten title two weeks ago. He’ll get his shot at redemption in St. Louis against a group that includes Illinois’ conference champion Adam Tirapelle.
Luke Becker
157 pounds
Ranking: 8th
Like Jared Lawrence, Becker placed second at the Big Ten meet. The road will be bumpier this weekend, with more nonconference foes thrown into the mix, but Iowa’s T.J. Williams is still the one to beat.
Brad Pike
165 pounds
Ranking: 11th
In a weak weight class for the Big Ten, Pike finished second in the conference. It’s the Big 12 Pike will have to deal with here. The conference has three of the 10-best at 165, led by Joe Heskett of Iowa State.

Delaney Berger
174 pounds
Ranking: 17th
After finishing fifth at the Big Ten meet, Berger is a long shot to place at 174 — a field led by top-ranked Byron Tucker of Oklahoma. He’ll need to have one of his best weekends as a Gophers grappler if he is to place.
Brandon Eggum
184 pounds
Ranking: 2nd
The senior will be looking to go out on top with a national title, but if Eggum wants to raise the trophy, he’ll need to take out Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson — someone Eggum hasn’t beaten in four attempts.
Owen Elzen
197 pounds
Ranking: 10th
Elzen certainly has the ability to turn his wrestling up a couple of notches to finish in the top eight. But he’ll have some tough opponents, namely No. 1 Mark Munoz of Oklahoma State, in his path.
Brock Lesnar
Ranking: 2nd
If Lesnar wants to end his short career at Minnesota with a national title, he’ll have to defeat Iowa State’s Trent Hynek. Lesnar is 0-1 lifetime against Hynek, and he’ll have to be more aggressive than he has been in the past few weeks if he wants to beat him.

There you have it — the weight-by-weight breakdown for the nine Minnesota wrestlers at the NCAA championships. The Gophers are already in St. Louis looking for the gateway to a team national title.

John R. Carter covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]