Becker nearing All-American wrestling goal

Minnesota wrestler Luke Becker sat on the mats and gazed deep into the rafters of Williams Arena.
The freshman wore a look that spoke volumes. You could almost hear him saying, “I could have, I should have, won that match.”
The Gophers grappler had just suffered a last-second loss to Iowa’s T.J. Williams — the top-ranked wrestler in the country at 157 pounds.
The match wasn’t a complete loss. The close call gave Becker the ability to believe in himself.
“It was a big boost,” Becker said. “It made me finally realize where I’m at. I was always kind of iffy, I didn’t know if I could beat him.”
He didn’t beat Williams that Sunday nearly two weeks ago and Minnesota went on to lose to the No. 1 Hawkeyes. But this weekend Becker and the Gophers will have a chance for redemption at the Big Ten championships.
Becker said he knows he can defeat Williams — as well as any other Big Ten opponent at the conference tourney.
“I definitely sent him a message in that match,” Becker said. “He’s going to have me in the back of his mind, especially next time we do wrestle.”
Minnesota coach J Robinson certainly has confidence in Becker. Robinson said if Becker continues to wrestle hard the entire match, as he has all season, his intensity will carry him.
“If he can focus on what he’s done, it has got him this far,” Robinson said. “Now the key is to just go out and wrestle as hard as he can.”
Robinson also said the development of Becker throughout the season has been huge for himself — and the Gophers.
“He’s not the same wrestler he was six weeks ago,” Robinson said. “He has an air of confidence about him, that he knows he can wrestle hard. That gives him a big advantage.”
Becker’s come a long way this season — he’s compiled a record of 25-8 over the season.
But coming into this year, Becker had an uncertainty about how his college career would go. Like all athletes, he set goals. But he wasn’t sure if he could live up to them.
“My goal this year is to be an All-American,” Becker said. “At the beginning of the year I didn’t know if that was possible. But the last few weeks now I’ve been wrestling real well and beating some good guys, and now I feel I am capable of (All-American status).”
Ranked ninth in the country at 157, Becker is on the verge of reaching his goal. The top eight wrestlers from the NCAA tournament in each weight class become All-Americans.
Becker had big shoes to fill this year. He stepped into the Gophers’ every-meet lineup, replacing Minnesota’s only four-time All-American, Chad Kraft.
The freshman hasn’t been overwhelmed with the pressure left by Kraft, who’s now the Gophers’ development coach.
Instead, he’s used Kraft’s presence at practice and at meets as a source of motivation.
“He knows where I am right now because he was there four years ago,” Becker said. “He’s always giving me confidence that I can be (an All-American).”
When the Big Ten tourney starts on Saturday, Becker is expected to be the No. 2 seed. Williams will be No. 1.
If Becker can beat Williams, he will solidify himself as an All-American candidate and have a Big Ten championship to boot.

John R. Carter covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]