Returning alumni bolsters wrestling

Brian Stensaas

If you can get past the abnormal heat, loud music and pungent smell that is the Minnesota wrestling room, you’ll find a bit of history within.

Not only are the near walls covered in countless multi-colored engraved plates bearing the names of the Gophers’ All-Americans and international competition participants, the entire room is decorated in Big Ten and NCAA team success banners.

While some are crooked and others fading, the faces and hearts responsible for hanging a handful of those placards still loom in the bowels of the Bierman Field Athletic Building – and along with them, a face or two once geared to stop the Gophers.

Added to the already successful wrestling room, home to the two-time defending national championship team, are a host of the nation’s top training personnel.

“It’s huge to have all these guys here,” said Derek Phillips, who transferred to Minnesota to wrestle this semester. “It’s really good to see. It’s cool that all the guys come back and help out while training for their own things.”

Already blessed with head coach J Robinson and his laundry list of accomplishments, and three assistants all with international flare, the squad has the luxury of competing every afternoon with some of the best amateur wrestlers in recent years.

Two-time NCAA champion Tim Hartung, a Minnesota wrestler from 1996-99, is a regular in the wrestling room and also acts as the team’s development director. Hartung, fresh off last weekend’s Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament win in the 211.5-pound class, is the top-ranked U.S. wrestler at the weight.

“The program has done a lot for us,” said Brandon Eggum, a two-time conference champion for Minnesota who also dedicates training time in the wrestling room. “I still have a lot of ties here. It’s hard to leave after you’ve been a part of a program like this.”

But assistance isn’t always from the most familiar places.

Doug Schwab was a three-time Big Ten champion at 141 pounds for rival Iowa. Doug, the younger brother of Minnesota assistant coach Mark Schwab, has since traded in his gold and black for maroon and gold.

He works out several times per week with the Gophers, at times wearing a Hawkeyes sweatshirt with Gophers sweatpants. But his heart now is with Minnesota.

“These guys have taken me in just like I am a part of the team,” Schwab said. “Once you start building a relationship with guys, it becomes normal.

“It was a little weird putting on the Minnesota stuff. But I have pride in this program now, just like I’ll always have pride in Iowa.”

Both Eggum and Schwab competed in last weekend’s tournament and along with Hartung plan to continue with their wrestling careers.

The experience doesn’t stop there. Recent All-American alumni Chad Erikson, Brett Lawrence and Leroy Vega, and Olympian Gordy Morgan all still spend time on the practice mats, as do a host of others.

“Without some guys coming back to help out when I was here, I wouldn’t have made it nearly as far,” said Jason Klohs, an international Greco-Roman standout who wrestled at Minnesota in the early 1990s. “These guys are all hard workers and it makes it fun to come back and work with them.”

It’s a tradition that should continue with the likes of seniors Jared Lawrence, Luke Becker and Ryan Lewis in the years to come. And it’s one that’s been proven to be successful.

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes

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