Wrestlers win two in Big Ten

Sarah Mitchell

MADISON, Wisc. — After an exhausting 19-17 victory at Iowa on Saturday, the 2nd-ranked Gophers wrestlers took a respite Sunday, storming out of Wisconsin with a 36-7 win.
Battling illness and nearly back-to-back competition, Minnesota (11-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) picked up two conference wins, fueling its drive toward the program’s first Big Ten title since 1959.
“We wrestled horrible, and we still won,” 165-pounder Josh Holiday said of the Iowa match. “We’re obviously a powerhouse.”
Minnesota (11-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) got off to a sluggish start, losing matches at 141 and 149 pounds. But top-ranked Chad Kraft (157) decisioned No. 13 Jamie Heidt 7-4, gaining ground for the Gophers and bringing the score to 7-3.
Sixth-ranked Holiday evened the score with a 12-4 major decision over the Hawkeyes Ben Uker. The senior grappler recorded his 23rd win of the season behind a six-point third period and skillful craftsmanship on his feet.
“I’ve always felt very comfortable,” Holiday said. “When someone gets a hold of my leg and lifts it above their shoulder like that, I don’t panic.”
Although the Hawkeyes nabbed six points at 174, with the Hawkeyes Gabe McMahan (No. 7) pinning Delaney Berger in 2:55, Minnesota claimed four of the next five weight classes to secure its third win in as many trips to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
One of those tallies featured a rematch between the Gophers’ Brock Lesnar (No. 2) and No. 3 Wes Hand. The two heavyweights first encountered each other at the National Duals two weeks ago.
At their first meeting, Lesnar controlled the smaller Hand, pinning him in the first period. This time a stalling Hand survived the entire seven minutes, including a scoreless first period, before losing 6-0.
“This time he came out ready to wrestle,” Iowa coach Jim Zalesky said. “At National Duals, nobody knew who Lesnar was, but by now we’ve had time to scout him.”
For Zalesky, there’s always next time. The next possible match-up could be at the Big Ten championships on March 6-7.
“There are three teams at the top. One of the powerhouses might fall flat on their face,” Zalesky said, referring to No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Iowa. “There is a month and a half of the season left. We will make progress.”
The Gophers also took a step forward Sunday. Prior to the meet, Badgers head coach Barry Davis said his team needed an early upset to pump up the crowd and his team. But instead it was Minnesota racking up an early — and unexpected — win.
Filling in at 197 pounds for an ailing Tim Hartung, Gophers freshman Owen Elzen defeated No. 17 Ryan LaGrange 11-5. The feisty Elzen, who is coming back from a broken arm, ignited during the third period behind two takedowns and a nearfall.
“He showed some poise out there. He was down and came back,” Gopher coach J Robinson said. “You get a chance to perform and you have to perform.”
After competing in two different states in less than 24 hours, Minnesota returns home this weekend with a dual meet against No. 6 Illinois on Friday and another against Ohio State on Sunday. But for Robinson, his team passed the test over the weekend, remaining undefeated in the Big Ten despite harsh travel conditions and a circulating case of the flu.
“They proved that they are tougher than they think they are,” Robinson said. “It was a hard day, but they wrestled with intensity and that’s important.”