Undefeated Lewis sets sights on NCAA crown

by Anthony Maggio

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Top-seeded Ryan Lewis didn’t spend much time on the mat at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships last weekend, but only because it wasn’t necessary.

En route to his first Big Ten championship at 133 pounds and the Outstanding Wrestler of the Season award, Lewis trounced three opponents in only 13 minutes and 40 seconds. He pinned Brian Smiley of Indiana in 4:01 and fourth-seeded Cliff Moore of Iowa in 2:39.

In the championship match, Lewis earned his third victory this season over Ohio State’s Jeff Ratliff with a 5-2 decision.

Lewis is now 28-0 on the season, including 10 pins.

“I wanted to go through and dominate every match the best I could,” Lewis said. “And (winning the Outstanding Wrestler of the season) is kind of a sign that I did that.”

Coach J Robinson figured Lewis was a lock for the honor, but the junior wasn’t as sure.

“I had an idea that I might win because I’d gotten three wrestler of the week awards earlier in the year,” Lewis said. “But I knew (Mike) Zadick was undefeated and (Otto) Olson was undefeated, so I thought it could have gone to any of us.”

Lewis credits his unblemished record to his team’s training habits. With every Gophers dual meet this season, Lewis has looked more in control and less tired at the end of his matches.

“He brings a very intense, hard-working attitude towards the team,” Robinson said. “He’s exciting to watch; he wrestles all the time, and he wrestles hard. It’s all the things we tell our guys to do.”

His ability to pin an opponent makes Lewis so exciting. Lewis is second on the team in pins this season and has scored three in his last six matches.

“I always think win first,” Lewis said. “But then if the opportunity is there for a pin, you definitely don’t want to let it go.”

With victories piling up for him and his physical condition improving exponentially, Lewis appears untouchable.

Lewis has defeated all four grapplers in the top 10 nationally he’s faced, pinning seventh-ranked Moore, second-ranked Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State and fifth-ranked Kevin Black of Wisconsin.

Through it all, Lewis has remained focused. He enjoys having an undefeated record but also knows all is for naught if he comes up short at the NCAA Championships next week.

And Robinson knows Lewis will not be handed the championship just for arriving in Albany, N.Y.

“He’s a favorite to win it, but he’s going to have to wrestle a good tournament like everybody else,” Robinson said. “But I think he’s very capable of doing that.”

With all the awards Lewis has won thus far and the top national rank, Lewis feels he can only validate them by bringing home a national championship.

“I just want to win it so bad,” Lewis said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. And to finish off the year the right way I expect nothing less than to win it. Anything less will be a disappointment for me.”

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and
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