Iowa continues run at top, Gophers take 3rd

ST. LOUIS — In most sports, and for most teams, they call it a dynasty. In Iowa, they simply call it part of the norm. By now, Hawkeyes wrestling fans expect the outcome they got this weekend.
Iowa wrapped up its sixth-straight, and 20th overall, NCAA wrestling championship Saturday night, topping Iowa State and Minnesota.
Although the Hawkeyes had only one individual champion, the depth of Iowa across the board enabled the Hawkeyes to score 116 points and hold off the Cyclones (109.5) and Gophers (80).
Minnesota’s third-place finish put the Gophers in an all-too-familiar position of finishing in the top three at the NCAA meet, but not No. 1.
For the fourth straight year, Minnesota was forced to stand and watch as Iowa hoisted up another team trophy.
The Gophers’ third-place finish clearly didn’t meet hopes, but coach J Robinson said Minnesota should remain proud of what it accomplished.
“It isn’t where we wanted to finish, but placing third at the NCAAs isn’t anything to be embarrassed or ashamed of, either,” Robinson said.
All season the Gophers claimed they were the best team in the country despite losing to Iowa in a dual meet and at the Big Tens.
Nationals was a chance for Minnesota to prove that. It didn’t happen.
“It’s disappointing. We didn’t get what we wanted out of here.” sophomore All-American Leroy Vega said. “But we had a lot of positive things, like our three new All-Americans.”
The rookies were a true bright spot for the Gophers. Freshmen Jared Lawrence (149 pounds) and Luke Becker (157), and junior Brad Pike (165) all placed in their first NCAA tournament to become All-Americans.
Lawrence and Becker finished in sixth place, while Pike took seventh.
The trio was joined by Vega (125), senior Brandon Eggum (184), and senior NCAA champion Brock Lesnar (heavyweight) to round out the Gophers’ six All-Americans, which tied a school record.
Lesnar was the lone individual champion for Minnesota. He decisioned Iowa’s Wes Hand 3-2 in double overtime to claim the title.
He became the first Gophers heavyweight to win a national title since Verne Gagne in 1949.
Eggum wasn’t quite as fortunate as his teammate. He ended his career as a three-time All-American, but he couldn’t nail down a first-place finish.
Eggum lost to Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, the eventual 184-pound champion, in the semifinals. Eggum finished third, but he remained pleased with his career in a Minnesota singlet.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Eggum said. “But no matter what happened at this tournament, I’ve really enjoyed (my time at Minnesota).”
Vega seemed to be the only Minnesota wrestler frustrated with his overall performance.
After the third-seeded Vega lost to No. 2 Jeremy Hunter of Penn State in the semis, Vega got the unlucky draw of facing Iowa’s top-seeded Jody Strittmatter in the consolation round.
Vega couldn’t come out on top, and ended up in fifth.
“It hurts real bad knowing I took third in Big Tens last year and third this year. Fifth last year at nationals and fifth this year,” Vega said. “Taking fifth last year was awesome for me. This year it hurts down deep inside, and it’s eating away right now.
“I’m not going to wait three or four weeks to start training for next year. It starts tomorrow.”

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