NCAA meet a showcase for three national powers

Brian Stensaas

It’s the question that will be on just about everybody’s mind when the stage is set at Kemper Arena next week for the NCAA wrestling championships in Kansas City.

Is three meant to be?

Two-time defending national champion Minnesota qualified eight wrestlers to the field by way of last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, but its run to another title won’t be had without a fight.

“Whoever wins this tournament will earn it,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “With having only eight guys there, the margin for error is a lot less. We’re probably not favored, but that’s fine. Let the burden be on someone else.”

This time around, the burden likely lands smack-dab on Oklahoma State. The top-ranked Cowboys qualified 10 wrestlers to the tournament, the only team with a full slate.

Along with Iowa, these three schools have purely dominated the sport from the late 1980s on. Since Arizona State won the NCAA title in 1988, Minnesota, Oklahoma State or Iowa has claimed the team title.

“It’s a three-team race,” Cowboys coach John Anderson said. “Iowa always has a strong team no matter what, (Minnesota) has really come on strong these past couple years and again I think we have a solid group here.”

For Gophers senior 157-pounder Luke Becker, the thought of not having a solid tournament hasn’t crossed his mind.

The defending national champ at the weight admits that since being pinned by Hawkeyes freshman Joe Johnston last month, his attitude has been a little out of whack. But after winning the Big Ten title last weekend, his confidence is back and he’s ready to go.

“I let some of that stuff get to me a little bit,” Becker said. “But rather than thinking so much, I’m just going out there to wrestle now. I’m where I want to be.”

Becker and his roommate, 149-pounder Jared Lawrence, have a chance to become only the second and third Minnesota wrestlers to be four-time All-Americans. They can do so by placing in the top eight of their respective classes.

All three teams are stacked at certain weights. Besides Becker and Lawrence – also an NCAA champ last season – Minnesota boasts 133-pound threat Ryan Lewis, who took second at the national tournament last year.

Along with Oklahoma State’s Johnny Thompson (defending national champ) and Iowa’s Cliff Moore (this year’s Big Ten champ), the 133-pound class is dominated by the three schools.

But it will take a lot more than a solid showing from a select few wrestlers to be crowned this year’s national champion.