Freshman falls in finale vs. top-ranked Oklahoma State

by Sarah Mitchell

At 125 pounds, Gophers freshman Leroy Vega wanted to be the first to wrestle at Williams Arena on Sunday. But by the luck of the draw Vega found himself in the finale.
With the score tied at 17 and a hyped-up crowd surrounding him, Vega stepped onto the mat looking at defending champion Teague Moore. Competing in only his second career dual match, the 16th-ranked Vega fared better than predicted but lost a 16-6 decision.
“It’s a perfect start for a freshman to be able to do so well in (front of) a crowd like this,” Moore said. “He’s starting out with that vision in his mind. He’s seen what the field is like.”
As the last matchup, Vega had ample time to anticipate the wrath of a top-ranked wrestler. Under the advice of Gophers coach J Robinson, the inexperienced Vega wasted some time, taking a seat by Gophers senior and defending champion Tim Hartung.
“J always said, `Sit by the great guys,'” Vega said. “(Hartung) said, `Settle down, settle down. You’ll come up.'”
Heading into the second-to-last match — the fight of the heavyweights — No. 2 Minnesota found itself leading the top-ranked Cowboys 17-11. If Gophers junior Brent Boeshans had only been decisioned, Minnesota would have retained a three-point advantage. This would have allowed the Gophers to tie even if Moore decisioned Vega.
But shortly into the third period, Boeshans was pinned, giving six points to the opposing team and making Vega’s task even more daunting.
“Actually, I didn’t even see it,” said Vega of the pin. “I walked down into the tunnel. I knew it was a close match and then I heard the crowd groan.”
With the added pressure, Vega made Moore sweat. The match was close until the waning moments of the third period when the trailing Vega made some more riskier moves attempting to upset Moore. Vega’s fight gave Robinson reason for optimism.
“Vega wrestled in spurts,” Robinson said. “He wrestled hard and he now knows that he can be right in there. It should be a very positive thing for Vega.”
The nationally respected Moore even spoke encouraging words about Vega, crediting the Gophers freshman for a solid battle.
“He’s well put together for a freshman,” Moore said. “He’s very fundamentally sound.”
With the praise of Moore and Robinson, Vega probably left Williams Arena feeling a little more confident. The freshman has until mid-March to make a run at the national title.
“I’m going to go back to the drawing board and look at film,” Vega said. “We’ll see where I’m at in three months.”