Future is bright for U wrestling program

Allison Younge

Following a third-place performance at this year’s NCAA wrestling tournament, Gophers coach J Robinson looked to the future of the Minnesota team with a glimmer of excitement in his eye.
“The guys will come back next year with a completely different attitude,” Robinson said. “Third won’t be good enough. They’ll believe they deserve more.”
While many teams said farewell to their senior standouts, Minnesota’s 10 NCAA qualifiers were busy planning for next year. The Gophers’ entire starting lineup will return striving to improve on this year’s successful season.
To achieve more next year will mean more matches won, more honors earned and more records broken. With a 16-4 dual meet mark this season, all 10 wrestlers competing at the NCAAs, five NCAA All-Americans and a third place team finish, the Gophers have created some tough standards to match. This fact, however, doesn’t worry the Gophers’ 190-pound NCAA third place winner, Tim Hartung.
“With all 10 guys returning, I think we’ll be in the running for the national title next year,” he said.
Hartung, along with fellow NCAA third-place teammates Chad Kraft (150) and Jason Davids (142), should hold top positions in the national rankings next year. Davids and Kraft should both start out next season ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. Hartung (190) should hold the No. 2 position along with Gophers All-American heavyweight Shelton Benjamin.
The five remaining weight classes will also be filled by accomplished veterans. All-American Pat Connors will return as Minnesota’s sturdy 126-pounder, along with 1996 Olympic silver-medalist Brandon Paulson at 118. Experience will be an asset of next year’s team, but Robinson says the Gophers possess another important edge.
“The guys have a strong belief system. They all have experienced success throughout their careers. They know what winning is about, so their expectations are extremely high,” Robinson said.
Recruits show potential
Four successful wrestling recruits have signed national letters of intent to attend the University next year. They are:
ù Chad Erickson (Apple Valley) won his fourth straight title for Apple Valley High School at this year’s state tournament. Erickson was then selected to compete on two USA All-Star teams, one against Pennsylvania, the other against Iowa. He will wrestle at 134 pounds for the Gophers.
ù Matt Kraft (Lakefield, Minn.) placed second at 160 pounds for Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield High School at the state tournament. This season, Kraft broke the high school career wins record when he won his 208th match.
Kraft will wrestle at 167 pounds for the Gophers. He is the younger brother of the Gophers’ two-time All-American Chad Kraft.
ù Joe Calavitta (Anaheim, Calif.) will join the Gophers after winning his second state title for Calvary Chapel High School, where Minnesota’s current 158-pounder Josh Holiday attended. Calavitta will wrestle at 142 pounds for the Gophers.
ù Mike Cuperus (Worthington, Minn.) won his second state title for Worthington High School at the state tournament. Cuperus will wrestle at 177 pounds for the Gophers.
This weekend, Kraft, Calavitta and Cuperus will compete in the National High School Tournament held in Pittsburgh. This tournament will feature runners-up and state champions from around the country.
Back in action
Selected Gophers will take the mat on Apr. 7 at Apple Valley High School to compete in a world dual meet sponsored by USA Wrestling. Brandon Paulson, Pat Connors, Jason Davids, Tim Hartung and Shelton Benjamin will compete for Team USA, as well as former Gophers Billy Pierce and Willy Short. Gophers assistant coach Joe Russell will serve as the coach of Team USA.