Eighth-place finish irks Gophers

by Aaron Blake

ST. LOUIS – Just four seconds after the whistle blew to begin sudden-victory overtime in the 165-pound semifinals on Friday night at the NCAA wrestling tournament, Oklahoma State’s Tyrone Lewis had Minnesota’s Jacob Volkmann on his knees for a takedown, negating Volkmann’s aspirations for a national title.

Volkmann’s team, however, had been brought to its knees several hours earlier by losing six of its nine competitors to elimination Friday morning.

Despite a second-straight national title for 197-pounder Damion Hahn, tiny contributions from Minnesota’s younger wrestlers resigned the team to an eighth-place finish in the tournament over the weekend at Savvis Center with a score of 65.5.

Oklahoma State repeated as team champions with 123.5 points while Iowa was a distant second with 82.

The finish is Minnesota’s lowest at the national tournament since 1996. Since then, the Gophers had finished in the top three for seven straight years.

Volkmann and redshirt freshman heavyweight Cole Konrad each finished fourth, giving Minnesota just three All-Americans.

“I’d say it was an embarrassment – I think that’s a conservative estimate,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said.

“They just didn’t fight. They were going through the motions. You can’t come to a national tournament like that and expect to win.”

Volkmann’s loss to Lewis – whom he beat Feb. 20 for Lewis’ only loss of the season – was painfully illustrative of why the Gophers couldn’t take their team title back from the Cowboys.

Minnesota couldn’t maintain the momentum it had accumulated by the end of the regular season. And in the end, the Gophers had nobody to look up to except teams they had already beaten in dual matches.

Minnesota beat the Cowboys 17-16 on Feb. 22 in Stillwater, Okla., and the Hawkeyes 18-15 the week before at Williams Arena. The Gophers also beat fifth-place Nebraska and seventh-place Illinois earlier this year.

“It’s pretty disgusting,” Konrad said. “We just didn’t perform how we should have.

“It sucks that it’s this late in the season, but it was a little bit of a wake-up call.”

After a pair of sessions on Thursday, only Hahn, Volkmann and Konrad remained in their respective championship brackets.

Battling elimination, 125-pounder Bobbe Lowe, 133-pounder Quincy Osborn and 141-pounder Tommy Owen got things started right early Friday by winning their first matches.

But 157-pounder Matt Nagel, 174-pounder Jon Duncombe and 184-pounder Josh McLay all lost their first wrestleback matches Friday morning. Lowe, Osborn and Owen followed suit shortly afterward, and Minnesota was left too undermanned to mount any semblance of a comeback.

“I’m upset because I don’t think (the younger wrestlers) believe what they can do,” Hahn said. “And they can do it. They just have to get it in their heads that they can go out there and be All-Americans.”

Fellow senior Volkmann, seeded fourth, pinned his first two opponents en route to the semifinal matchup with Lewis. In the third-place bout, he led 4-3 before Edinboro’s third-seeded Matt King scored a takedown with about 20 seconds remaining and held on for the 5-4 win.

Konrad, the fifth seed, lost to Oklahoma’s fourth-seeded Leonce Crump twice – in the quarterfinals and the third-place match – in becoming the only other Gophers All-American.

He earned entry to the third-place match by avenging an early-season loss to Pennsylvania’s third-seeded Matt Feast in the consolation bracket.

Though Robinson praised Konrad’s efforts, in the end, he was the only nonsenior to even approach All-American status.

For this reason, Robinson said he has no problems shaking things up after the disappointing campaign, and he’s excited about the group of freshmen he will have at his disposal.

“Either (the returning wrestlers) are going to wrestle, and they’re going to brawl, and they’re going to fight and scrap, or they’re not going to wrestle,” he said. “We’ll find somebody else who will. They’ll get the message a little early. So they’ll either change or they won’t wrestle.”