Seniors to wrestle

Sarah Mitchell

Jesse Krebs provides the leadership. Tim Hartung will be remembered as a national champion — or possibly a two-time national champion. And Chad Kraft could leave Minnesota’s wrestling program as the only four-time All-American in the school’s history.
These three merely represent the unprecedented senior class of the 2nd-ranked Gophers team. With the exception of senior Josh Holiday, who was not redshirted his first season, the veteran grapplers are nearing the end of a five-year bond.
They’ll be recognized for their efforts tonight, when the Gophers close out the home portion of their schedule with St. Cloud State and No. 24 Northern Iowa.
“Our class is a well-rounded class,” Kraft said. “We all played our parts. I really believe we set the pace.”
The seniors did raise the program’s standards, setting records by leading the team to a third-place finish at the 1997 NCAAs before breaking through with a second-place finish last season.
“Every program starts with somebody,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “These guys came in here five years ago and jump-started us.”
Although the senior grapplers have already given so much to the program by turning Minnesota into a powerhouse and attracting some of the nation’s top prospects along the way, some have plans to contribute more. Their presence in the wrestling room won’t end with the 1999 NCAAs.
“I plan on still training here, maybe work my way up the coaching ladder,” Kraft said. “It’s just hard to believe that suddenly it’s our time.”
With Senior Night on Friday, entertainment on the mat begins on Sunday. The Gophers will travel to Nebraska to wrestle a team that has climbed in the national polls since the National Duals in mid-January, jumping from No. 10 to a tie for fourth with Oklahoma.
Two one-point upsets account for this upgrade. The Huskers defeated No. 6 Iowa State 19-18 on Jan. 31 before scraping past Oklahoma 18-17 on Feb. 4.
“They’re getting a lot of value out of their team right now,” Robinson said. “They don’t have a lot of great individuals, but as a team they are getting stronger.”
The Huskers starting lineup contrasts Minnesota’s, containing three freshman and four sophomores. Nebraska coach Tim Neumann said he is interested in seeing Huskers freshman Bryan Snyder go against top-ranked Kraft at the 157 pound weight class and said the 184 pound match-up, pitting Holiday and Huskers sophomore Brad Vering, also intrigues him.
“We’re not dominating anybody, but we’re young enough to be exciting,” Neumann said. “If you compare the two teams weight-by-weight things look close. But realistically a talent gap does exist.”
Since Neumann believes the weight class breakdown doesn’t make the Gophers a heavy favorite, the Huskers coach initially said it doesn’t matter at what weight class the dual meet begins. But Neumann decided heavyweight would be the worst draw.
“The Russian Bear,” Neumann said, referring to Gophers heavyweight Brock Lesnar. “He should be illegalized. We call him the Russian Bear here.”
As a junior, Lesnar returns next season for the Gophers, but five of Minnesota’s starters are seniors. Unlike Robinson, Neumann expects his starting lineup next season to resemble the one the Gophers face on Sunday.
“The guys here are making huge strides this season alone,” Neumann said. “This year the nation’s top two teams, Oklahoma State (No. 1) and Minnesota, are the cream of the crop. Next year we could be with that group.”