Wrestling seniors have fond home farewell

by Allison Younge

Saturday marked an unusual day for Gophers senior Zac Taylor. Prior to Minnesota’s final home dual meet against Michigan, Taylor reflected on the emotional impact of taking the mat for the last time with the Gophers at the Sports Pavilion.
“I walked in the door, and I knew it was the last time I’d carry a gym bag into this place,” Taylor said. “I’ll probably be here again, but never carrying a gym bag in.”
For the past six years, Taylor has called Minnesota home and the Gophers wrestling team his extended family. A redshirt year and a year off fulfilling Olympic commitments has made Taylor the eldest of the Gophers’ veterans.
Saturday against Michigan, the four-year starter had a winning objective in mind. The pressure to perform was intense for ninth-ranked Taylor upon facing Michigan’s fourth-ranked senior Jeff Catrabone. Riding the enthusiasm of three straight Gophers victories, Taylor extended the streak to four matches — and won his final match at home.
In addition to Taylor, seniors Jason Davids and Shelton Benjamin also added excitement to the 27-10 rout of Michigan. Davids (142 pounds) captured a 13-4 major decision, sparking the Gophers’ first win of the night. Seventh-ranked Benjamin (heavyweight) closed the match by upsetting the Wolverines’ second-ranked Airron Richardson by a score of 3-1.
Davids and Benjamin both earned All-American honors at last year’s NCAA Championship. Davids has been a mainstay at 142 pounds for the past four years, while Benjamin joined the team just last season after an accomplished junior college wrestling career. While each possesses a unique role on the team, Taylor, Davids and Benjamin shared the crowd’s appreciation throughout the match.
For the three seniors, the match was a successful send-off. A large margin victory, and two closely fought battles produced a satisfying outcome for the entire Gophers team.
“It allows everyone to feel great about this meet,” Gophers junior 190-pounder Tim Hartung said. “(The seniors) are a big part of this team.”
While the Gophers still have two duals as well as the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments to look forward to, Gophers coach J Robinson said next season these steady starters will be missed.
“When you come into a dual meet, everybody does it, you’re counting the wins — well, Davids is going to win, Zac is going to win and Shelton is going to win,” Robinson said. “It gives you a lot of confidence. When you see those type of people leave, you’re a little bit afraid — are there people like that to follow them?”
The final entry gave way to the final warm-up, the final introductions, the final match and the final victory in front of the loyal Minnesota fan club. Stepping off the mat with one departing wave, Taylor concluded his last performance in fitting fashion.
“Everybody, I’m sure, comes into the arena for the last time and wants to win,” Taylor said. “It makes it a little more special.”