Gophers’ Vega makes Purdue pay for hesitation

by Sarah Mitchell

As a collegiate wrestling prospect, Leroy Vega wanted to be loyal to his home state. But the 125-pounder from Portage, Ind. was overlooked by one of the state’s top wrestling schools — Purdue.
“I would have gone there, but they didn’t recruit me,” Vega said.
Boilermakers coach Jessie Reyes said during Vega’s final year of high school, it didn’t appear as though Vega, who has climbed to No. 10 in the polls with the Gophers, would have a productive career at Purdue.
“We recruited him at the latest signing date because the weights were different then,” Reyes said. “He would have wrestled at 118, and we didn’t think he would be big enough. By that time Minnesota was already recruiting him.”
Instead, the Boilermakers signed Jason Silverstein (No. 12). During their match on Friday, however, Vega showed the Boilermakers how costly their hesitation was by defeating Silverstein 5-3.
“(Vega) turned out to be good,” Reyes said. “But we think Silverstein is better.”

Face in the crowd
Tim Hartung was a face in the crowd on more than one occasion over the weekend. Besides being just a spectator at the team’s season ending dual meet at Northwestern on Sunday (the Wildcats forfeited at 197 pounds), the Gophers senior found his mugshot in Sports Illustrated’s weekly feature, Faces in the Crowd.
The Feb. 22 issue recognized the NCAA champion for his growing win streak and flawless season. Hartung has strung together 46 straight victories, while going undefeated this season at 31-0.
Losing Face
The reputation as a predator seems to be slipping away from No. 3 Iowa. The once unbreakable Hawkeyes dropped their fourth dual meet of the season on Sunday, a 26-11 road loss to top-ranked Oklahoma State.
With 165-pound Ben Uker and heavyweight Wes Hand (No. 3) out of the lineup, Hawkeyes coach Jim Zalesky moved several of his grapplers up a weight. Zalesky’s strategy failed, however, as the Cowboys claimed wins in seven weight classes and earned their 68th straight dual meet victory.
The 1998-99 Hawkeyes ended the regular season with records of 13-4 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten. The last time Iowa suffered four defeats in one season was in 1973 under coach Gary Kurdelmeier, when the Hawkeyes went 10-4-2.

The new Iowa
By defeating the Hawkeyes twice this season, Minnesota (18-2, 9-0) replaced Iowa as the conference power.
“Minnesota came in here to prove a point and I told my team (we) couldn’t be intimidated,” said Reyes of his team’s 37-3 loss to the Gophers on Friday. “But that’s what happened. After a couple of weights, there was a domino effect.”
Reyes was disappointed with the performance of his team. The Boilermakers claimed one weight class, when Minnesota freshman Matt Kraft lost a 4-2 decision to the Boilermakers’ 19th-ranked James Crnich. Reyes said with the exception of his bigger wrestlers, Purdue should have posted a better score.
“As for 184, 197 and heavyweight, we’re out of experience, out of horse,” Reyes said. “Minnesota’s a good team, but we made them look better than what they are.”