Second straight National Duals crown for grapplers

Anthony Maggio

COLUMBUS, Ohio ñ Minnesota senior and three time All-American Leroy Vega embodied the intensity of the defending national champion Gophers at the National Duals last weekend.

Vega stood hunched over with his knees bent, slightly rocking and glaring straight into his opponent’s eyes. Ohio State’s 125-pound Jesse Leng, stared back. The two looked like statues, not budging for over a minute. Then Leng broke the stare to loosen up a bit. Vega didn’t move until the match started.

“I was real focused,” Vega said. “I wrestled (Leng) once before and we had a one point match and I know he’s not that close to me, so I had to go out there and prove something to myself that I was way better than that.”

Vega scored a 12-4 major decision over Leng, and his drive inspired Minnesota victories in six of the remaining nine matches for a 26-8 victory over seventh-ranked Ohio State and the second-straight National Duals championship for the Gophers.

Minnesota was pitted against the Buckeyes after they upset second-ranked Oklahoma State and third-ranked Oklahoma back-to-back on Saturday.

Ohio State reached the championship match in the final match against Oklahoma, as second-ranked heavyweight Tommy Rowlands pinned Leonce Crump in overtime. But after an emotional high on Saturday, the Gophers squashed the Buckeyes plans of another upset.

“(Winning the championship) feels great,” 133-pound Ryan Lewis said. “It’s great to be part of a team like this and be a key player in it.”

In the championship meet, Vega and top-ranked Lewis started things off for Minnesota with back-to-back major decisions. At 141 pounds, second-ranked Chad Erikson lost a decision to eighth-ranked Robert Sessley.

Third-ranked Jared Lawrence got things back in the right direction for the Gophers with a win at 149 pounds, and third-ranked Luke Becker put Minnesota ahead 16-2 with a five-point technical fall over 13th ranked Josh Janson at 157 pounds.

The Gophers had problems at 165-pounds all weekend, and Nate Baker lost a decision 4-7 to 11th ranked John Clark. Minnesota didn’t win a match at 165 in the tournament with 10th ranked John Hardy losing twice, Mitch Marr losing once and Baker losing once.

“We still have the whole Big Ten season (to establish a starter at 165),” head coach J Robinson said. “So we’ll see what happens.”

At 174 pounds, seventh-ranked Jacob Volkmann bounced back from a loss the night before to second-ranked Otto Olson of Michigan to post a major decision.

Sixth-ranked Damion Hahn turned in a three-point decision over 15th ranked Anton Talamantes at 184 pounds, and third-ranked Owen Elzen followed with an overtime win over fourth-ranked Nick Preston.

Fifth-ranked Garrett Lowney lost the heavyweight match to second-ranked Tommy Rowlands 3-2 to end the meet.

“Our motto here was to spread the gap and show how far ahead we are of teams and I think we did that,” assistant coach Marty Morgan said.

The Gophers won four duals in two days to secure the tournament title while continuing to dominate as they have all season. Five of Minnesota’s 10 starters – Vega, Lewis, Lawrence, Hahn, and Elzen – went 4-0 for the tournament

“They’ve proven so far that they’re the best team in the country,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said.

Top-ranked Minnesota got off to a slow start on Saturday morning against 15th ranked Northern Iowa, but recovered late to seal a 28-12 victory over the Panthers.

Robinson was displeased by a lack of intensity at a couple of weights.

“In the first matches when our guys went out and controlled the match and did what they were supposed to do then the matches were really lopsided,” Robinson said. “But when they just stand around ñ Lowney wrestled for three minutes and didn’t take a shot ñ how can you beat anybody if you don’t shoot? You can’t.”

The Gophers responded well in their quarterfinal match against Pennsylvania two hours later, dominating the Quakers 35-6. Back-to-back pins from Lewis – who returned from a month long hiatus due to a groin injury – and Erikson highlighted the meet.

Saturday evening’s semifinals pitted Minnesota against a fourth-ranked Michigan squad fresh off a sound defeat over fifth-ranked Iowa.

The Gophers lost only two matches in the dual versus the Wolverines, advancing to the championship by a score of 26-6.

“This (weekend) is by far the best we performed (all season),” Robinson said. “Everybody was on the same page and they were wrestling hard. Even the ones we lost we were fighting.”

Cooperman to transfer

Freshman grappler Cory Cooperman has elected to transfer from Minnesota to Lehigh University.

The Spingfield, N.J., native was rated as the 17th best recruit in the nation by Intermat. He had not wrestled for the Gophers this season.

“Cory wanted to be a four-time All-American but feared he could not do that in the current situation at 133 pounds,” Robinson said in a release. “He later said that he wanted to be closer to his mother who is having some health problems.”

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and
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