Lewis, Becker win titles as grapplers best tourney field

by Brian Stensaas

Thanks to a pair of individual championships from guys it was counting on and solid showings by a few underdogs, Minnesota’s wrestling team captured the Las Vegas Invitational title over the weekend.

The third-ranked Gophers racked up 131 points in the two-day tournament, sneaking past Illinois (123.5). Big Ten schools Ohio State (3rd), Michigan (7th) and Wisconsin (8th) also finished in the top 10. Top-ranked Oklahoma State and No. 2 Iowa did not compete in the tournament.

“This is one of the tougher tournaments in the country, and it was exciting to see where our guys were at,” Minnesota assistant coach Joe Russell said. “Everyone really stepped up, and that was really important.”

Climbing to the top of the podium were 133-pounder Ryan Lewis and Luke Becker in the 157 weight class.

Top-seeded Lewis gave the Gophers their first individual title when he decisioned the Badgers’ Kevin Black 5-2. Tied 1-1 in the third period, Lewis scored a pair of takedowns in the final minute to secure the win and the title.

No. 1 Becker moved his unbeaten streak to 27 matches with an 8-5 win over Buckeyes’ 157-pounder Keaton Anderson. Becker is 8-0 on the season, but he knows the year is just getting started and a lot more must be proven.

“I’ve still got a lot of things to work on,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t complain about the championship (this weekend); it felt good. But I’ve still got to get after guys a little better.”

In all, Minnesota placed seven wrestlers in the top eight.

Unranked 125-pounder Bobbe Lowe finished in eighth place, as did unranked heavyweight Jacob Liniger. Josh McLay, also unrated, finished in fourth place. The trio’s collective effort impressed fellow teammates and coaches alike. A total of six wrestlers competing now were not on varsity last season.

It’s gutsy performances like those of Lowe, Liniger and McLay that the young Gophers’ team is counting on to help defend its national championship.

“I’m really starting to understand that you’re not going to learn it all at once,” Lowe said. “Everything will eventually come together.”

Two Minnesota wrestlers placed second at the invitational. Top-ranked Jared Lawrence lost a 6-4 match to No. 3 Eric Larkin of Arizona State in the 149 finals. It was Lawrence’s first defeat since last season’s Big Ten Championships. No. 2 Jacob Volkmann also lost in the finals, dropping a 6-2 decision to top-ranked Matt Lacky of Illinois.

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]