Hawkeyes win Big Ten title

Allison Younge

Even though the Gophers wrestling team finished second to Iowa in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota caused the highly respected Hawkeyes coach Dan Gable to think twice.
“Minnesota is a strong team, but they’ll lose some seniors before next year,” Gable insisted.
In actuality, the Gophers starting lineup consists of four juniors, five sophomores and one freshman — no seniors.
Iowa won it’s 23 straight Big Ten championship with a team score of 140.5 this weekend at Williams Arena, but Minnesota’s 116.5 looked threatening enough to cause Gable concern.
“After all of the success Gable has had, he’s not worried,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “But seeing us at the Big Tens may give him a sense of what we’ll bring next year.”
The young Gophers team faired well at the this weekend’s tournament. All 10 weight classes finished in the top six in the tournament — qualifying them for the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore Tim Hartung and junior Jason Davids advanced to the Big Ten finals held Sunday afternoon. In a tense overtime match, Hartung clinched the 190 pound Big Ten title over Michigan State’s Brian Picklo by a score of 3-1.
Davids met Indiana’s Roger Chandler in the 142-pound championship match. Chandler (30-1) came out confident and aggressive, scoring a three-point nearfall and a takedown almost immediately. Davids avoided the pin with a display of relentless defense. Chandler held control until the last eight seconds of the period when Davids fought back to score a reversal.
With Chandler leading 5-2 after one period, the damage had been done. Davids said going into the match that to beat Chandler he needed to score first and build momentum. Before he knew it, Chandler had stolen the momentum, leaving Davids with a 13-6 loss in the finals.
Before the Big Ten finals on Sunday, three Gophers claimed third place finishes. Junior Chad Kraft (150 pounds) and sophomores Pat Connors (126 pounds) and Josh Holiday (158 pounds) captured the Minnesota crowd by winning their respective matches in unique, exciting ways.
Connors opened the 126-pound match on fire, scoring five points immediately and almost earning a pin. After two minutes, Connors had doubled his score 12-3 and went on to a 13-6 major decision.
“Last year I went 0-2 in the Big Tens,” Connors said. “This year, I wrestled a pretty good tournament. I know I can hang in there with the best of the best and hopefully finish in the top eight at nationals.”
Kraft’s match was applauded when the public address announcer said, “Krafty with the pin in overtime.” Coming back from a 3-2 deficit in the third period, Kraft released a sudden burst of aggressive energy and pinned Illinois’ Eric Siebert in overtime 7:28.
“I knew I was down in the third and it was either create some offense or lose the match,” Kraft said.
After two slow-paced matches, Holiday bounced back into his flashy mode to take third place over Wisconsin’s Kole Clauson.
“The first couple matches, it was like my eyes were cloudy,” Holiday said. “Today, I made my opponent wrestle how I wanted to wrestle.”
The Gophers suffered three major upsets in the Big Tens. Junior Brandon Paulson (a 1996 Olympic silver medalist) came back strong from an ankle injury for his first round match against Michigan’s Chris Viola. Paulson, who sat out for a month and a half after undergoing corrective surgery, earned a 15-7 major decision victory, nearly pinning Viola in the first period.
“I felt 100 percent,” Paulson said. “When I was on the mat, I didn’t feel any pain at all.”
Zac Taylor was also met with disappointing outcomes at the Big Tens. He lost his first round match by a takedown 15-13, to Mike Uker of Iowa. Taylor battled back in his next two matches to compete in the third place match, but met Uker again and was defeated for a second time by major decision 14-6.
Sophomores Brandon Eggum (177) and Troy Marr (134) finished fourth and fifth respectively. Junior heavyweight Shelton Benjamin took sixth.
Even though Iowa’s dynasty claimed the Big Ten team title for the 23rd year in a row, the Gophers proved that they are gaining strength. Ten fresh Minnesota wrestlers will compete for NCAA honors in Cedar Fall on Mar. 20. And to Gable’s demise, all of them are expected to return next year.
“I could’ve sworn they had at least two seniors,” Gable said. “J is known for pulling a few things out of his hat.”
After the tournament was completed Robinson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
“To be selected by your peers for an award like this is the biggest compliment you can get,” Robinson said.
Note: Illinois finished third in the Big Tens (105.5) after first place Iowa and second-place Minnesota. Penn State (89.5) followed taking fourth and Michigan (59.5) finished fifth overall.