Transfer Phillips fills hole at 141 pounds

by Brian Stensaas

Two years ago at the NCAA wrestling meet, many believed a new dynasty in college wrestling had begun. For the first time ever, one team spawned a full slate of 10 All-Americans en route to the national title.

That team was Minnesota.

And though the Gophers repeated as champions last season, this year’s squad has limped to a 10-4 record heading into this weekend’s Big Ten opening match with Michigan State.

Minnesota coach J Robinson vowed to make some drastic changes before Saturday’s dual.

Enter Derek Phillips.

A fifth-year senior, Phillips has been accepted to the University for his final semester of college and will wrestle for the Gophers at 141 pounds effective immediately.

Though he didn’t arrive in the Twin Cities until the wee hours Monday, Phillips will step in and compete at 141 on Saturday. It’s one of the weights the Gophers have struggled at so far this season, with Tommy Owen and Trent Hatlevig combining for a 3-11 dual record at the weight.

“We had to make some individual changes,” Robinson said. “Different guys need different things this time of year. Some, it’s strength, others, it’s weight.”

Phillips comes to Minneapolis by way of Central Michigan, where he compiled a 57-26 record heading into this season, where he was in constant competition for the starting spot.

Despite losing the nod to No. 6 Jason Mester, Phillips had a strong showing at the Midlands tournament last month. He defeated defending NCAA champion Aaron Holker of Iowa State en route to a fifth-place finish.

“Everybody respects a two-time defending national champion,” Phillips said of the Gophers. “It’s nice to be affiliated with them. I knew I wanted to transfer, and luckily, J was one of the guys talking to (Chippewas’ coach Tom Borrelli).”

Robinson did not say any other major changes would be in effect for Saturday’s dual. Heavyweight Garrett Lowney, who injured his hip at last weekend’s National Duals tournament, is questionable. Should Lowney not be good to go, look for Eli Ross to get the nod.

Robinson suspended

Stemming from an incident in last year’s inaugural Border Brawl, Robinson and Iowa coach Jim Zalesky have both been suspended for one conference match. Both will sit out their team’s first Big Ten dual this weekend.

Robinson is not allowed to be with the team two hours before or after the match and cannot be in the building while the event is in progress.

At last February’s event, the two coaches mutually agreed to start the match at 125 pounds – a violation of NCAA rules, which at the time stated weight class order must be determined by a draw.

According to Minnesota compliance director Frank Kara, the NCAA approached both schools and asked the institutions to look into the incident.

“What we did was consult with the Big Ten,” Kara said. “There’s no clear-cut penalty for this. Both Minnesota and Iowa consulted with (Big Ten) Commissioner (Jim) Delany and came together that it seemed reasonable to suspend them both for the first home Big Ten match.”

The rule has since been dropped, and beginning this season, coaches can mutually agree to start the dual at any weight without a draw.

Robinson, who was vehemently opposed to the rule, isn’t happy he is required to miss the match but is glad the law was changed.

“That was the whole point,” he said of starting the match without a draw. “Nobody would address it, but then, when it gets some attention, everybody goes, ‘Oh, that’s a stupid rule.’ It’s continually the old mentality that a rule is a rule. And that’s a very simplistic approach.

“It’s ridiculous,” he continued. “Here’s a rule, it got changed. Obviously it wasn’t a good thing Ö we needed to do this for the best of wrestling.”

Assistant coach Marty Morgan will assume the coaching duties for Minnesota.

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]