2003 Big Ten Wrestling Championship Preview

by Brian Stensaas

>For an explanation on what he needs to be successful this weekend, Bobbe Lowe just points to his head.

“It’s all mental,” the Oak Grove, Mo., native said. “We’re all 0-0 going in. Getting a low seed only allows me to go in and upset someone.”

Lowe has struggled at points this season, heading into the conference tournament with a 4-4 Big Ten record and succumbing to a pair of pins.

He’s faced the task all season of filling the void at 125 by three-time All-American Leroy Vega. If Lowe wants to make the NCAA tournament, he will have to wrestle above his pre-seed of eighth.

RYAN LEWIS – 133 lbs. – 1st pre-seed

On the heels of a 32-1 record and a controversial loss in the NCAA championship match, Ryan Lewis has made it his personal goal to get back to the NCAAs and take the title. But first, the senior must once again sift his way through the Big Ten pack.

Entering the tournament as the top seed, Lewis, the defending conference champion at 133, boasts a perfect 8-0 Big Ten record and leads the Gophers with 10 pins. Since a season-opening non-conference loss to Iowa’s Cliff Moore, Lewis has stuck to the basics and is ready to peak.

“I feel more comfortable on my feet than I ever have,” he said. “I’m ready to wrestle smart; I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

DEREK PHILLIPS – 141 lbs. – 3rd pre-seed

Following a snub at the starting 141-pound spot at Central Michigan, Derek Phillips knew it was time for a change. Minnesota was watching and brought him in to fill the large void at the weight. The decision paid off.

Phillips has shined since joining the team for this semester. He has a respectable 6-2 record, losing only to Penn State’s Scott Moore and Indiana’s Coyte Cooper – the two pre-seeded ahead of Phillips.

“I got my body working as hard as it can,” Phillips said. “Everything has worked out here. I’m ready to do more. I want to let people know who I am before this season finishes up.”

Before coming to Minnesota, Phillips defeated defending NCAA champ Aaron Hokler at the Midlands Tournament.

JARED LAWRENCE – 149 lbs. – 1st pre-seed

The powers that be only allow this box to mention Lawrence’s highlights. In truth, the entire section could be used to document this senior’s accolades. Entering the tournament as the top pre-seed, the defending NCAA champion is primed and ready for his final Big Ten tournament.

“It’s time to step it up,” he said. “I’m excited at the chance to do well and dominate. We’re ready to go down to Madison and wreck shop.”

Lawrence joins fellow senior Ryan Lewis (133) as the only Gophers undefeated in conference competition. His only loss on the season is to top-ranked Eric Larkin of Arizona State.

LUKE BECKER – 157 lbs. – 2nd pre-seed

After opening the season with eight consecutive wins, Becker was tamed in the Ice Dual by Oklahoma State’s Shane Roller. Since then, Becker has done some rolling of his own, going 11-2 with his only losses coming to top-seed Keaton Anderson of Ohio State and a surprise pin by Iowa’s Joe Johnston.

Since being matted by Johnston, Becker has been training on his own – a technique used by the coaching staff with wrestlers in the past. Last season, Chad Erikson self-trained and made a run in the postseason.

Their hopes are Becker, the defending NCAA champ, comes back this weekend with a bang.

Becker has not lost a postseason match since falling to Roller 12-10 in the 2001 NCAA third-place match.

JACOB VOLKMANN – 165 lbs. – 3rd pre-seed

After bursting onto the scene as a first-year earning All-America status, Jacob Volkmann was upset a year ago at the NCAA tournament after finishing third at the Big Tens.

Volkmann has been steady this season, switching to 165 from 174 to begin the year. He boasts a team-high eight major decision wins including four straight at the Las Vegas Invite. He placed second at the tournament, falling to Illinois’ Matt Lacky in the title bout.

He adds five pins to his season rap sheet, and coach J Robinson believes those kind of bonus points will be what wins the Big Ten tournament.

“They will be a big deal in this tournament,” Robinson said. “The last couple tournaments we’ve won, we had the most. They’re huge.”

JOSH MCLAY – 174 lbs. – 7th pre-seed

McLay enters the tournament as one of four Gophers with no prior Big Ten tournament experience. He’s struggled this season after Volkmann bumped down to 165 and opened up a starting spot at 174. He’s competed in all eight Big Ten duals, mustering a 3-5 record.

Following McLay’s loss against Indiana to close out the dual season, assistant coach Marty Morgan said he was disappointed with McLay’s performance. The sophomore isn’t exactly disagreeing with Morgan.

“Everything else is gone,” McLay said of the season. “I know I can go out there and wrestle my match like I’ve done in big tournaments before. I just have to wrestle my match.”

MATT NAGEL – 184 lbs. – unseeded

A five-time state champion for Frazee, Matt Nagel is no stranger to the big stage. He is, however, a little on the green side when it comes to not being the best.

Nagel was thrown into the 184 spot when Damion Hahn bumped up to 197. A natural 157-pound wrestler, Nagel convinced the coaches with his skills and has been at the 184 spot ever since.

Despite weighing in nearly 20 pounds lighter than the class, he does have one win at 184, a 5-1 triumph over Michigan State’s Jeff Clemens. Nagel has had success wrestling at other weights this season, including his first collegiate win coming by pin over Embry Riddle’s Richard Corrigan at 157.

DAMION HAHN – 197 lbs. – 2nd pre-seed

A two-time All-American at 184, Damion Hahn looks to add another honor to his credit when he fights for a second consecutive Big Ten title this weekend. Hahn won last year’s 184 bracket by edging the competition, winning by a combined seven points in three matches.

He’s jumped up a weight and his confidence has grown as well.

“We’ve had a couple real good weeks of practice here and really stressed quick attacks,” he said. “I feel really good about this weekend. I’ve done everything the coaches have told me to do. I’m definitely ready.”

After enduring off-season knee surgery, Hahn has done well at his new weight, posting a 5-1 Big Ten record.

GARRETT LOWNEY – HWT lbs. – 3rd pre-seed

Though only a junior eligibility-wise, Garrett Lowney is set to wrap up his fifth season in a Minnesota singlet. He will leave the school this spring and focus on his international competition with hopes to make the 2004 Olympic team.

Lowney has seen his fair share of successes over the past few seasons, winning the Big Ten title two years ago and picking up All-America honors the past two seasons.

He’s endured an injury-plagued 2003, but still managed to rack up a 6-1 Big Ten mark and heads into the tournament pre-seeded third.