U welcomes challenge at

Sarah Mitchell

Lee Fullhart handed Gophers wrestler Tim Hartung his only loss last season, a 7-6 overtime National Duals Tournament defeat which was surrounded by a questionable stalling penalty against the Minnesota wrestler.
Hartung quickly avenged the loss, rebounding a week later in a home dual meet. Hartung controlled his nemesis, downing Fullhart 6-1. Minnesota’s lone 1998 NCAA Champion has not faced Fullhart since.
“Basically, we are just two of the best guys at our weight class,” said Hartung, who has gone undefeated since the one-point tournament loss. “I’d like to think that I’ve widened the gap in the past year, but we’ve always had close matches.”
This back-and-forth struggle for the No. 1 ranking at what is now the 197-pound weight class is entering its third and final year. With the National Duals Wrestling Tournament scheduled for this weekend in Iowa City, fans of the sport are almost guaranteed to witness another meeting of the two, an event Minnesota assistant coach Marty Morgan labeled “the Tyson/Holyfield of college wrestling.”
In a 16-team field, the 3rd-ranked Hawkeyes and No. 2 Gophers find themselves on the same side of the brackets. Based on the background, Hartung will risk his top rank if he takes the mat against 2nd-ranked Fullhart.
“I’ve never even talked to the guy. Just from competition, we’ve always been against each other,” Hartung said. “The match-up has sort of become a classic.”
The team match-up, pitting the Hawkeyes against the Gophers, has also grown into a rivalry. Last season the Gophers upset the hometown 3rd-ranked Hawkeyes 18-17. In the final match, Gophers heavyweight Shelton Benjamin pinned the Hawkeyes’ Wes Hand and Minnesota claimed its first-ever National Duals Tournament championship.
This season, the Gophers are hunting for a repeat. Reflective of one of the nation’s top teams, Minnesota brings in a lineup with ranked wrestlers in eight of the 10 weight classes.
That number could have been nine, but No. 16 Delaney Berger suffered a shoulder injury at Saturday’s Great Plains Open in Lincoln, Neb., forcing him from the competition.
Freshman Matt Kraft is Berger’s replacement. The 174-pounder has more than a year of redshirt experience in a focused wrestling room to guide his way. Kraft’s older brother, Chad, who ranks first at 157, also wrestles for Minnesota. Fellow freshman teammate Leroy Vega described Kraft as having “the fire in him, just like his older brother.”
“I have to go down there and just take each match one at a time,” Matt Kraft said. “All the upperclassmen, (Tim Hartung) and my brother … I just have to follow their actions.”
The sport’s elite teams will be present at this two-day preview of the NCAA championships. Six of the nation’s top teams are in the mix.
This line-up also presents the Gophers with a chance to redeem themselves against No. 1 Oklahoma State, following a 17-21 loss to the Cowboys in November. But for Hartung, a victory over Fullhart might hold more meaning.
“I’d like that challenge if it came down to it,” Hartung said. “It’s been quite a battle.”