Gophers win conference title

David McCoy

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Minnesota assistant wrestling coach Joe Russell compared Sunday’s 149 and 157 pound Big Ten championship matches to “Romeo and Juliet.”

Only Dustin and C.P. Schlatter didn’t fall in love with Troy and Alex Tirapelle.

They crushed them.

After leading defending champion Illinois by only 4.5 points after the tournament’s first day Saturday, the Schlatter brothers of Minnesota defeated the Tirapelle brothers of Illinois in convincing fashion to help propel the Gophers to the Big Ten title.

“It’s kind of a ‘the Capulets and the Montagues’ type of moment,” Russell said. “Those two going head-to-head, there was extra pressure on them and the way they stepped up was unbelievable.”

The back-to-back Schlatter wins were the first two of four individual titles for Minnesota, which won the team tournament with 138 points, 13 more than Illinois. Big Ten regular season champion Michigan finished third with 115.

Roger Kish won at 184 pounds, beating another Illini wrestler, Pete Friedl, 3-1 to clinch the team title for Minnesota. Cole Konrad repeated as heavyweight champ, beating Michigan’s Greg Wagner 6-1 in overtime.

The four individual Big Ten titles is the second-most ever for Minnesota, which won five in 2002 – the same year the Gophers won their last NCAA team championship.

Minnesota was in dire need of inspiration after hurting from 133-pounder Mack Reiter’s heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin’s Tom Clum in the championship match. Entering the match 0-2 lifetime against Clum, Reiter was up 4-2 in the first period, but eventually fell to Clum 6-4 in triple overtime. Clum was named wrestler of the tournament.

“Our team needed us to come through,” C.P. Schlatter said. “It was a make or break situation for us to win the title.”

Dustin Schlatter, ranked No. 1 nationally at 149 as a freshman, scored four near-falls in the first period to knock off Troy Tirapelle, the Cinderella of the tournament, with a 14-0 major decision which earned him Freshman of the Year honors.

Unseeded true freshman Troy Tirapelle upset third-seeded Eric Tannenbaum of Michigan and second-seeded Ty Eustice of Iowa before losing to Dustin Schlatter. His brother’s win fired up C.P. Schlatter to knock off Alex Tirapelle, the defending Big Ten champion, in a 5-2 decision.

“After we lost to Michigan (Feb. 17 for the Gophers only loss of the season), we just made a promise to each other that we’d do everything we can to win for each other,” C.P. Schlatter said. “And he just got me going.”

Minnesota’s Matt Nagel, 7-0, lost to top-seeded Ryan Churella of Michigan in the 165 finals, Minnesota’s Manuel Rivera placed fifth at 141 and Gabe Dretsch finished fourth.

Dretsch drew top-seeded and eventual 174-pound champion Jake Herbert of Northwestern in the first round and got pinned in 4:08. But Dretsch battled back, beating Wisconsin’s Kelly Flaherty and upsetting Ohio State’s Blake Maurer 8-6 and Illinois’ Donny Reynolds 6-4 in overtime before falling to Michigan State’s R.J. Boudro 3-1 in the third-place match.

But it wasn’t all joy for Minnesota over the weekend. 125-pounder Travis Lang and 197-pounder Mitch Kuhlman failed to qualify for NCAAs after getting eliminated Saturday. The last time Minnesota sent only eight to NCAAs was 2003 – the year the Gophers back-to-back NCAA Championship run was snapped by Oklahoma State.

“It hurts, but we’re going down there with eight strong guys,” Reiter said. “There’s no weak links left. Not that there was before, but every one of us is going down there with the goal to win that thing. And I think we have the team to do it.”