Wrestlers finish undefeated in Big Ten

by Sarah Mitchell

Destroying a pair of Big Ten foes over the weekend isn’t exactly a major achievement for the No. 2 Gophers wrestling team. Minnesota added a different spin to the feat, however, by closing out an undefeated conference season.
Minnesota (18-2 overall, 9-0 Big Ten) crushed No. 13 Purdue 37-3 on Friday before knocking off 19th- ranked Northwestern 25-15 on Sunday to finish the Big Ten portion of the schedule with an unblemished record. The last time Minnesota accomplished this was the 1952-53 season.
“It’s big,” senior Troy Marr said. “Hopefully we can break through and win the Big Tens.”
Late in the team’s dual meet against the Wildcats, the score caught the Gophers off guard.
Following a double-overtime loss at 125 pounds — Gophers 10th-ranked freshman Leroy Vega was upset by 19th-ranked Dominic Caruso — Minnesota was defeated at 133 pounds when the Wildcats’ John Giacche beat senior Bart Golyer 3-2. At 141 pounds, Northwestern’s Scott Schatzman beat freshman Chad Erikson 6-3.
The dual moved to its eighth match with the underdog Wildcats owning a one-point lead.
Marr started the Gophers comeback at 149 pounds. Facing the Wildcats’ Jon Mreidstat, the sixth-ranked Marr led 5-0 after the first period.
The Gophers senior nearly pinned Mreidstat in the third, but the Wildcats wrestler kept his shoulders off the mat, allowing Marr only three points for a near fall. Marr couldn’t pin Mreidstat, but he did deny him points, accumulating more than five minutes of riding time and shutting out the freshman 11-0.
“I wasn’t planning on wrestling because of my foot,” said Marr, who injured his left foot against Purdue. “I couldn’t really wrestle my style.”
With the lead at 17-15, the Gophers’ top-ranked Chad Kraft put the meet out of reach. Behind two escapes and five takedowns, the Gophers’ 157-pounder earned a technical fall against Northwestern’s Jason Erwinski.
“It was closer than I thought it would be,” Wildcats assistant coach John Kading said. “But we had a good week of practice and I think we’re starting to turn the corner. We’re starting to believe in ourselves and we’re bringing what we do downstairs (in practice), upstairs (to the match).”
Vega looked at home on the black and gold mat Friday night as the Gophers wrestled at Purdue.
Deadlocked after one period, the Portage, Ind., native broke loose against the Boilermakers’ Jason Silverstein with a 4-2 decision.
Vega’s victory started Minnesota’s run, giving the Gophers a 3-0 lead. The rest of Vega’s teammates followed suit, looking just as comfortable on the opponent’s mat.
In what was the night’s toughest match on paper, Kraft shutout No. 6 and previously undefeated Willie Winberg 4-0.
“Right now I’m just taking it one match at a time,” said the three-time All-American Kraft. “A lot of crazy things can happen if you start looking forward.”
Minnesota ended the match convincingly, getting back-to-back pins from No. 1 Tim Hartung at 197 and No. 2 heavyweight Brock Lesnar. It was Hartung’s third straight pin against Boilermakers freshman Jared Williams, and his 13th of the season. The pin puts Hartung within three of the school record of 51, set by Billy Pierce from the 1992-96 season.
ù Minnesota has two weeks off to prepare for the Big Ten championships in Ann Arbor, Mich. The wrestle-off for the conference title begins on March 6.