Gophers ‘not ready to win right now,’ but getting there

Minnesota's wrestling team lost five All-Americans from last year's team, but Robinson believes in this year's squad.

Aaron Blake

Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson knows his team isn’t ready to compete for its third national championship in four years – yet.

“We’re not ready to win right now,” Robinson said. “We’re not ready to win the national tournament or the Big Ten tournament right now. But we can be in four months.”

Robinson’s squad experienced some turnaround this offseason, but the expectations remain as high as in years past.

The team lost All-Americans at heavyweight (Garrett Lowney), 133 pounds (Ryan Lewis), 149 pounds (Jared Lawrence), and 157 pounds (Luke Becker). These four combined for a 103-20 record last season.

All were seniors but Lowney, who left the team to train for the 2004 Olympic games.

But don’t tell Robinson that the talent isn’t there. His expectations are as high as in past years, and he said that this team is still capable of the greatness which has become protocol inside of Minnesota wrestling circles.

“At some point in time, when you wrestle for Minnesota, you have to realize that you have to step up and do what’s required,” Robinson said. “That’s what we need to do. Just because they’re not All-Americans doesn’t mean they couldn’t be All-Americans.”

Like any coach, Robinson noted that rankings don’t count for anything. Still, a team that has finished in the top three in each of the past seven NCAA Tournaments is ranked as low as fifth in some polls.

This is largely because Robinson is still waiting for some of his wrestlers to assert themselves where others have departed.

He said returning starter Bobbe Lowe has the inside track on Andrew Domingues at 125 pounds. But Domingues’ performance Saturday at the Harold Nichols Open in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was encouraging.

Redshirt freshman Quincy Osborn “really impressed” his coach this weekend where he took Lewis’ spot at 133 pounds. His coach said he has asserted himself in front of Will Holst.

Lawrence’s departure has left the 149-pound slot wide open, with true freshman C.P. Schlatter filling it in victory Saturday.

Jon Duncombe, a junior transfer from St. Cloud State, will likely fill last year’s trouble spot in the Gophers’ lineup at 184 pounds.

And at heavyweight, the spot Lowney and two-time All-American Brock Lesnar have held down for the past four years, Minnesota will probably go with redshirt freshman Cole Konrad.

What it all adds up to is a team that could start three freshmen and one new-comer.

Though Robinson emphasizes developing all of his wrestlers, he places the onus on whomever the starters might be this season.

“There is a little bit of pressure and a little bit of responsibility, but there is a lot of opportunity,” Robinson said. “They’re going to have to step up.”

Robinson stays steadfast in his expectations, as if losing has slipped from his consciousness.

It’s probably because he feels like he’s done it before.

“We like to try and compare (this year) to the 2001 team (which won the national championship),” he said. “Nobody expected a lot from that team, but our guys came through.”

The dotted line

Minnesota wrestling has signed two high school state champions to national letters of intent to start competing in the 2004-05 season.

Tyler Safratowich, a senior at Park Rapids Area High School in Park Rapids, Minn., is a Junior National All-American and a two-time Minnesota state champion. He will likely wrestle at either 133 or 141 pounds for the Gophers.

Nick Davis won the Florida 2A, 171-pound championship and had a 45-0 record at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Fla., last season. He is likely to wrestle at 174 pounds.