Lewis’ return ignites fellow wrestlers

by Anthony Maggio

COLUMBUS, Ohio – On the second of December, top ranked and defending national champion Minnesota wrestled No. 2 Oklahoma State in a much-anticipated dual meet.

Ryan Lewis, then ranked fourth at 133 pounds, squared off against top ranked Johnny Thompson, who finished second at the NCAA championships last season.

After nearly being pinned early, Lewis swung the momentum his way, and with nine seconds left, pinned the reigning number one seed.

Since then Lewis has been sidelined with a groin injury. But last weekend at the National Duals in Ohio, Lewis returned and showed the top ranking he received after pinning Thompson was warranted.

Lewis went 4-0 on the weekend, pinning Jeff Eveleth of Pennsylvania at the 2:58 mark, and earning major decisions over the seventh and 17th ranked wrestlers at 133. The pin was Lewis’ sixth of the season.

Thanks in part to a healthy Lewis, Minnesota repeated as National Duals champions. For his efforts, Lewis earned Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors for the second time this season.

“It’s great to be back,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t wait to be back. It sucks being out anytime. The team needed me a lot and I was glad I was able to wrestle good enough to win my matches.”

“He was on his game,” head coach J Robinson said. “He’s got a real good chance to win (the national championship).”

Lewis said his injury was “rare” as his groin muscle was pulled completely off the bone.

But Lewis is almost at full strength and felt comfortable in his return to the mat. In fact, the coaches said if the national tournament had been three weeks ago – Lewis would’ve wrestled.

“I’m feeling really good and I’m confident in my leg,” Lewis said. “So now I’ve just got to go out there and wrestle hard.”

Lewis’ return means more to the Gophers than filling a roster spot.

In Lewis’ absence, Minnesota forfeited three dual meets at 133, and Eric Anderson went 0-2 in the other two. Lewis is 17-0 on the season, 6-0 in dual meets.

More importantly, Lewis and Leroy Vega – ranked second at 125 pounds – are the catalysts of the team, and their enthusiasm and intensity set the tone for the team every meet.

“It’s real nice to have Lewis back,” Vega said. “He follows me right up, we pump each other up. I try to get him going and he gets me going right before I wrestle.”

It was especially evident at National Duals how much the duo means to the Gophers now that they are again intact. Vega won all of his matches as well, and the aggressiveness of the pair got Minnesota rolling in all four duals by going a combined 8-0.

“Vega was on his game this weekend and then Lewis comes out and wrestles like that and it gets the other guys going,” assistant coach Marty Morgan said. “He’s a real good momentum builder.”

Added Robinson: “They’re our two spark plugs. We want them to get us going. Lewis is a hard-nosed guy. They get us going; they get us excited about wrestling and then it takes off for the rest of the guys.”

Lewis showed no lingering effects of his injury during the dual, and he was even quicker and more assertive than early this season.

The only trouble Lewis had was early in the match against seventh ranked Jeff Ratliff of Ohio State. After Ratliff scored the first takedown, Lewis battled back to win 13-2 with the help of a three-point near fall.

“That’s the style we want to wrestle – very aggressive,” Morgan said. “You can’t find a guy more aggressive than Lewis.”

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and
welcomes comments at
[email protected]