Second-place finish takes second place to 10 qualifiers

Minnesota qualified all 10 wrestlers for NCAAs at this weekend’s Big Tens.

Matt Anderson

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Right after his 8-7 double-overtime win in the seventh-place match at 197 pounds Sunday, Matt Koz held up all 10 of his fingers.

That said it all.

Though effectively knocked out of contention for the team title Saturday night, Koz was the 10th Gophers wrestler to emerge as an NCAA qualifier from the Big Ten Championships at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That means Minnesota will carry a full lineup to St. Louis next week.

Top-seeded heavyweight Cole Konrad and 133-pound redshirt freshman Mack Reiter took home individual titles, helping Minnesota finish second with 123.5 points. Illinois won its first Big Ten title since 1952 with a team score of 130.

“I think you’re always disappointed (with second place),” coach J Robinson said. “I don’t think anybody plays games to get in second.”

Saturday’s second session proved detrimental to the Gophers’ team-title hopes. The team had advanced five wrestlers to the semifinals in the first session, but only Reiter and Konrad advanced to the finals.

Fifth-seeded Bobbe Lowe, third-seeded Matt Nagel and sixth-seeded Roger Kish were all defeated in the semifinals at 125, 165 and 184, respectively. The eventual-champion Illini had five wrestlers in title matches.

Despite the team’s failure to capture first, wins from 141-pounder Tommy Owen, 174-pounder Gabriel Dretsch and Koz in their respective seventh-place matches ensured every Minnesota wrestler would go to NCAAs.

And that surely meant something.

“It’s a really big thing for us, because we’re so close,” Koz said. “It just helps us go down to St. Louis one more week and compete together.”

Former Iowa coach Dan Gable, coach of 17 national championship teams, said he thought Minnesota’s strong showing during the weekend was a good statement about its wrestling program.

“It’s a real tribute to a pretty good program that really kind of looked like it might be sliding a little bit,” Gable said. “Once you get up there, you don’t want to just fall back into that second tier, and I think today showed them that they’re not falling back too far.”

Part of Minnesota’s reassertion of strength was the individual championships of Konrad and Reiter.

Konrad pinned his first two opponents and majored fourth-seeded Dustin Fox of Northwestern in the semifinals to advance to the heavyweight championship match.

In the finals, he had trouble with third-seeded Pat DeGain of Indiana, who took Konrad into double overtime before allowing an escape and a takedown to give Konrad the championship by a score of 4-1.

Reiter also advanced to the finals easily. Once there, he pinned top-seed Mark Jayne for the second time this season, and his performance earned him the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler award.

But even Reiter said the 10 his team posted was more important than his one title.

“We’re going to have a great next week of practice,” he said. “We’re really, really excited going to the NCAA and hopefully can win it down there.”