Fresh Harvest

Matt Anderson

Minnesota’s wrestling team has talked all season about how they were building for the Big Ten Championships. This weekend, the ninth-ranked Gophers will be able to see just what it is they’ve constructed when they head to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, for the conference championships Saturday and Sunday. The squad heading to Carver-Hawkeye is young, with five redshirt freshmen from the nation’s top-ranked 2002 recruiting class making their first appearances at the Big Tens. To win the Big Ten title, Minnesota will have to turn potential and youthful inconsistency into two days of solid wrestling. Going for its fourth conference title in five years, the Gophers will have to overcome the veteran Big Ten co-regular season champions and co-favorites No. 4 Illinois and No. 6 Michigan, who each have four top-seeded wrestlers. “All 10 guys have got to be on key this weekend, just wrestling well,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “All these guys, even the young guys, have been very successful. They know how to win. Now they just got to go out and do it.”

125 lbs. Fifth Seed
Sr. Bobbe Lowe (29-5, 5-2) No. 6
Top Seed: Kyle Ott, Illinois.
After having his season-opening 24-match win streak snapped by Ott on Jan. 22 at the NWCA National Duals, Lowe struggled down the home stretch. Starting with the loss to Ott, Lowe finished out the season 5-5, including a 9-0 major decision loss to second-seeded Nick Simmons of Michigan State and another loss to Ott in the season’s final dual meet. In his career, Lowe is 0-8 against Simmons and Ott. He is seeded behind Joe Dubuque of Indiana and John Velez of Northwestern, both of whom he defeated this year. “I didn’t get seeded probably what I should have got,” said Lowe, “which makes me more fired up and ready to go.”

133 lbs. Second Seed
Fr. Mack Reiter (32-5, 6-2) No. 3
Top Seed: Mark Jayne, Illinois
Somewhat overlooked in a recruiting class that included top-three national recruits Roger Kish and C.P. Schlatter, Reiter has sparkled in his debut season. Eight of his 33 wins came against opponents currently ranked in the top 20, and he leads the team with 13 pins. After losing two in a row late in the season against Wisconsin’s third-seeded Tom Clum and Ohio State’s fifth-seeded T.J. Enright, Reiter broke out of his slump in a big way by pinning Jayne in the season’s final dual meet, his second win over Jayne. With his season-long success, Reiter has proven himself fully capable of taking home a Big Ten title in his rookie year.

141 lbs. Unseeded
Jr. Tommy Owen (9-11, 3-4) Unranked.
Top Seed: Josh Churella, Michigan
Owen missed most of the season’s first half with a neck injury, and when he returned, he shared the starting job at 141 with Quincy Osborn for most of the second half. Since his 10-4 win against third-seeded Cassio Pero of Illinois on Jan. 22, every time Owen faced a seeded wrestler, he lost. Owen won the 141 spot outright when he beat Osborn in a wrestle-off Feb. 14. An NCAA qualifier last year at 141, if Owen can break out of the slump he’s been mired in most of the year, he has the talent to repeat that feat this year. “He’s going unseeded, but I think he can use that as motivation that they don’t respect him as much as they should,” assistant coach Joe Russell said.

149 lbs. Unseeded
So. Quincy Osborn (8-8, 0-2)
Unranked
Top Seed: Eric Tannenbaum, Michigan
Osborn enters the Big Tens as the biggest unknown in the Gophers lineup and maybe in the entire conference at 149. He has not wrestled since losing the wrestle-off to Owen, and just one of his starts this season has been at 149 – a 4-2 loss to Iowa’s second-seeded Ty Eustice on Feb. 11. Osborn won the 149 starting role when he beat Danny Williams in a wrestle-off this past weekend. He qualified for the NCAAs at 133 last season by placing sixth at the Big Tens. “Being up a weight class, the advantage he’s going to have is he’s not cutting weight when the rest of them are,” Russell said. “So he can go in feeling big and strong.”

157 lbs. Seventh Seed
Fr. C.P. Schlatter (11-7, 2-4) No. 20
Top Seed: Ryan Bertin, Michigan
Super-recruit Schlatter has been unable to establish any sort of rhythm this year, missing the first two months while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, moving up to 157 at the end of January due to trouble making weight at 149 and then missing two dual meets in February with a skin infection. Although Schlatter has looked strong early in most of his matches, he’ll need to prove that he has the third-period stamina if he is to give the Gophers the points they’re looking for out of 157. “There’s no doubt that’s the toughest weight in the country and probably the conference,” Russell said. “But with our guys like C.P., they’re getting better every day, where a lot of those other guys have maybe plateaued.”

165 lbs. Third Seed
Jr. Matt Nagel (23-12, 6-2) No. 10
Top Seed: Ryan Churella, Michigan
All year, Nagel has won the matches he was supposed to win and lost close decisions in the matches he was supposed to lose. He lost 5-4 to top-seeded Churella at National Duals and 3-1 in sudden victory overtime to second-seeded Mark Perry of Iowa on Feb. 11. To win the Big Ten title he and coaches think he’s capable of, Nagel must finally finish off a win against top-tier competition. “The big thing for him is believing when he goes out there,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “He can beat anybody; it’s just believing.”

174 lbs. Sixth Seed
Fr. Gabriel Dretsch (21-9, 3-3) Unranked
Top Seed: Pete Friedl, Illinois
If looking for one Minnesota wrestler likely to outperform a low Big Ten seed, Dretsch is a good bet. A footnote to the nation’s top recruiting class in 2002, Dretsch ascended to the starting spot at 174 by the end of December after starting the season third on the depth chart behind seniors Josh McLay and Jon Duncombe. His season was interrupted for a month with a groin injury that had him out of competition from Jan. 4 to Jan. 30. Dretsch was impressive in his loss to Friedl on Feb. 20, nearly taking him down late in the third period for an upset victory. Dretsch said he thinks his lower seed will serve him well. “I like being the underdog,” he said. “There’s not as much pressure on you.”

184 lbs. Sixth Seed
Fr. Roger Kish (23-6, 0-2) No. 7
Top Seed: Brian Glynn, Illinois
Kish was well on his way to living up to his billing as the nation’s top recruit in 2002 when he went absent with a skin infection from the lineup for six meets from late January through early February. In his first two dual meets back, Kish was immediately wrestling top-quality opposition, dropping a 10-8 decision to third-seeded Brady Reinke of Wisconsin and a 5-3 overtime loss to Glynn. The 184 field in the Big Ten is stacked, boasting five top-10 wrestlers. If Kish can make a quick return to pre-injury form, he could make noise. But Kish did admit that his three-week absence might damage his chances in the Big Tens. “It kind of hurts me knowing that I haven’t gotten an opportunity to wrestle some of these guys in the Big Ten,” he said.

197 lbs. Eighth Seed
Fr. Matt Koz (13-15, 2-4) Unranked
Top Seed: J.D. Bergman, Ohio State
The highly-touted Ohio recruit was handed the task of replacing two-time national champion Damion Hahn at 197 to start the season, and by National Duals, had been demoted to a co-starting role with Duncombe. Koz has shown flashes of what made him a prized recruit, pinning sixth-seeded Willie Breyer of Michigan on Jan. 30 and sealing the starting spot at 197 in the season’s final weekend by beating seventh-seeded Ryan Flaherty of Wisconsin. At other times, Koz has been less-than-stellar, including a three-match stretch in early February where he did not score an offensive point. The parity in the Big Ten at 197 after Bergman means that if Koz can string together consistent performances, he should qualify for the NCAAs.

Heavyweight First Seed
So. Cole Konrad (33-2, 8-0) No. 2
Top Seed: Konrad
Konrad, the prohibitive favorite at heavyweight in the Big Ten, has won 21 matches in a row since losing to fifth-ranked Cain Velasquez of Arizona State on Dec. 7. Konrad has dominated Big Ten bouts this year, not giving up an offensive point during his 8-0 run through conference duals. He handily defeated second-seeded Greg Wagner twice, 4-1 Jan. 22 and 7-2 Jan. 30. He also beat third-seeded Pat DeGain of Indiana 5-3 Nov. 27 at the Mat Town Invitational. “Everybody else is just going to keep it close and try and squeak a win out in the end,” Russell said. “He’s got to really force the action so they’re never in the match with him.”