COLUMBUS, Ohio – Only two seniors have graced the bout sheet for Minnesota’s wrestling team this season, and both of them have done about everything they could.
Defending national champion 197-pounder Damion Hahn and All-American 165-pounder Jacob Volkmann provided leadership during the team’s midseason struggles. They set the stage for a young team to succeed and the team was mediocre without either of them in the lineup.
But Hahn and Volkmann couldn’t do much about the Gophers’ results at other weights at the Big Ten Championships over the weekend. Still, the All-Americans did their parts by winning titles of their own.
In addition, Volkmann was named the most outstanding wrestler of the tournament, along with Illinois’ Alex Tirapelle.
Hahn breezed through four matches – including a 7-2 decision over Iowa’s Ryan Fulsaas in the final – en route to his third straight Big Ten title.
He is only the fifth three-time Big Ten champion in Minnesota history, a feat most recently accomplished by Tim Hartung (1997-99). Verne Gagne is the only four-time conference champ.
“To be put in that class with those two wrestlers is just amazing,” Hahn said. “Anytime you hear of Minnesota wrestling, you hear Tim Hartung, Verne Gagne, Chad Kraft. Now I kind of put my name up with them, hopefully.”
Volkmann had to fight from behind in a couple matches, but the third seed came out in the title match and dominated first-seeded Johnny Clark of Ohio State from the start.
His 16-2 major decision on Clark was the only major of the title matches.
Clark caught Volkmann out of position three separate times in the third period, adding some drama to the title match. But Clark was unable to hold any moves.
“I just knew I had to watch for the cradle and maybe some legs,” Volkmann said. “But he was tired – I thought he was tired after the first period. I wasn’t too worried.”
Volkmann beat second seed Pat Owen of Michigan in the semifinals with a 9-7 come-from-behind decision. He lost to Owen in early December at the Las Vegas Invitational.
Over his four years with the team, Volkmann bettered his Big Ten finish by one place each year, graduating from fourth in 2001 to first this year.
The individual titles were rewards of sort for the leadership the two seniors have provided for the young Gophers team during the season.
After the team lost at home to Wisconsin and Purdue the same weekend, Hahn and Volkmann said they took it upon themselves to motivate their teammates.
“They told us to suck it up, and we weren’t wrestling up to our ability,” 184-pounder Josh McLay said. “We only recruit the best guys at Minnesota, and we weren’t wrestling up to our potential.”
The leadership didn’t always come in the vocal form. Hahn and Volkmann have been leading by example all year, going a combined 59-5 after this weekend.
“Anybody that does anything really well makes it look easy,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “But the one thing that people don’t always remember is how many countless hours you put into making it look easy.
“It requires a tremendous amount of work.”