Big Ten Wrestling Championship Preview

Anthony Maggio

Leroy Vega

Just like fellow seniors Chad Erikson and Owen Elzen, it’s now or never for Vega. He is a
three-time All-American currently ranked
second in the nation, but has yet to capture a Big Ten title. Last season, Vega finished second at Big Tens. Vega is 28-2 overall this season, and is undefeated in the conference. “It’s going to be tough,” Vega said. “They’re all going to be after me because I have the number one spot. They’re going to want to knock me off. But I’m only concerned with myself. I figure if I go out there and wrestle hard, those guys can’t beat me.”

 

Ryan Lewis

Lewis spent last season as a sophomore
backing up All-American Brett Lawrence. It appears Lawrence taught him well, as Lewis has been Minnesota’s most dominant wrestler this season. The Division II transfer from North Dakota State pinned then first-ranked Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State in December and hasn’t looked back. Lewis is 25-0 this season, and has been ranked first in the nation since January. Lewis does, however, sit it tough company. Four other Big Ten wrestlers are ranked in the top 10 in the country at 133.

 

Chad Erikson

Erikson, like most of his teammates, has spent all season ranked in the top 20. This despite the fact Erikson hasn’t competed since a loss to unranked Luke Moffitt of Iowa on Feb. 1. The senior is currently ranked seventh in the nation with a 14-3 record (1-1 Big Ten). Erikson took last month off to stay healthy and rest for the Big Ten Championships, a tactic which proved successful for him last season. “I’m anxious to get in some competition,” Erikson said. “I haven’t competed for the last couple of weeks, so I’m ready to go for sure.”

 

 

Jared Lawrence

Of the three other Big Ten wrestlers in the top 10 in the country at 149 pounds, only one is on Lawrence’s mind – Mike Zadick. Lawrence is 27-2 this season, suffering both losses to the Iowa senior. “In the Big Ten, most of the guys I’ve handled pretty well to where I’m not too worried about them,” Lawrence said. “Just Zadick.” Lawrence, the second seed last season, won a Big Ten title after turning in a
performance which earned him Wrestler of the Championships honors. This year, he is again the second seed and hopes for similar results in defense of his title.

 

 

Luke Becker

In the last two seasons, Becker has taken high hopes to the Big Ten Championships, only to be defeated by T.J. Williams of Iowa in the final match. This season, Becker, a two-time All-American, is 28-3 and undefeated (8-0) in the Big Ten. The junior from Cambridge, Minn., leads the Gophers with 10 pins as well. With Williams out of the picture, Becker should have a clear path to the conference title. “I’m definitely going in planning on winning the tournament,” Becker said. “If I get myself going and put the pressure on, I should be able to do well against all of them.”

Nate Baker

Redshirt freshman Baker spent this
season fighting for the starting position at 165 pounds. He split time with John Hardy late in the season, but was named the postseason starter thanks in part to a strong showing in his last three Big Ten meets. Baker pinned Ohio State’s sixth-ranked John Clark in the Gophers last meet of the season, earning the coaches nod to enter the postseason rather than have a wrestle off with Hardy. Baker is 25-11 on the season, with a 2-3 mark in the conference. “It’s going to be a new experience for me,” Baker said. “But I feel I’m right in there with everyone else in the Big Ten.”

 

 

Jacob Volkmann

As a freshman, Volkmann was thrown into the mix at 174 pounds and responded with his first All-America honor. He was
pre-seeded fourth in the Big Ten Championships, which is where he
finished. In this, his sophomore season, Volkmann has been a steady presence for the Gophers with a 23-6 record on the
season, including a 6-2 Big Ten mark. His two losses came at the hands of both wrestlers preseeded ahead of him this weekend – Michigan’s Otto Olson, and Iowa’s Tyler Nixt. Volkmann lost to Olson by eight points in the dual meet versus Michigan, but Volkmann only lost to Olson by two points at National Duals.

 

 

Damion Hahn

As a freshman last season, Hahn stepped into the starting lineup for Minnesota and finished third at the Big Ten Championships. This
season, he is again pre-seeded third, but wants the three to change to a one by Sunday. “I want to win it,” Hahn said. “If I take anything less than first I’ll be disappointed in myself.” Hahn finished the regular season with a 23-8 record, 4-2 in the Big Ten. His two losses came to 14th ranked Jason Potter of Illinois and top-ranked Andy Hrovat of Michigan. Hahn earned a 9-4 decision over Hrovat at National Duals before losing 9-3 to him a week later at Michigan.

 

 

Owen Elzen

Elzen entered last years Big Ten Championships as the top seed. Elzen lost in the semi-final match, however, en route to a third place finish. But last year, Elzen was wrestling with a torn ACL. This season, Elzen is healthy and extremely focused, knowing this is his last chance for a Big Ten title. Elzen finished the regular season 28-3, 7-1 in the conference. His only loss came on senior day to Ohio State’s Nick Preston. “This year I have as good of a chance as any,” Elzen said. “And at the end of the year, all that matters is Big Tens and NCAAs.”

 

 

Garrett Lowney

Lowney stormed upon the Big Ten heavyweight scene last season, winning the
conference tournament as a freshman. This year, Lowney is in the thick of a stacked conference at heavyweight, headed by a new freshman – Iowa’s Steve Mocco. Five of the top six heavyweights in the nation come from the Big Ten. Lowney faced Mocco in the Border Brawl with Iowa and was
defeated in the second overtime after losing the coin toss. Lowney is 22-5 on the
season, earning a 6-2 Big Ten record. His other loss came to Ohio State’s Tommy Rowlands. Two of Lowney’s Big Ten match-ups this season have gone to the coin toss, and he is 1-1 in those matches.