Wrestling freshmen look for experience

The 1999 Minnesota wrestling team can be easily recognized on the mats this season.
There’s the size of Brock Lesnar, the finesse of Brandon Eggum and the strength of Leroy Vega. All three are returning All-Americans for the third-ranked Gophers.
But what about the rookies on this year’s edition of Minnesota wrestling?
Two Gophers freshman have already begun to make their mark, and plan on helping their fellow All-Americans contend for a national championship next March.
Luke Becker at 157 pounds and Jared Lawrence at 149 have some pretty big shoes to fill. Both Chad Kraft (157) and Troy Marr (149) were All-Americans last season
But now they’re gone and they’ve left a pretty large hole. Last season Becker and Lawrence were redshirted, and they’re still adjusting to the varsity level.
“It’s like night and day,” Becker said. “There is a lot more pressure at varsity, because your teammates are counting on you to win the big matches.”
Lawrence said last season was great preparation for the varsity level.
“Not everybody is ready to come in and start pounding away,” Lawrence said.
Coach J Robinson certainly has confidence in his rookies, but said it will take time for the two to reach the top.
“Both of them have the potential to end up high at the end of the year,” Robinson said. “They are in a learning mode right now and are trying to concentrate on improving.”
While they are Minnesota’s rookies, they feed off of the team’s veterans. Becker and Lawrence both agreed that Lesnar, Eggum and Vega have a positive influence on their freshman season — especially Vega.
“Leroy was in our situation last year,” Becker said. “He’s talked to us about fighting through wins and losses, and told us how he battled through it to become an All-American.”
And when the Big Ten season starts in January, Becker and Lawrence will need some of that All-American flare. They will be expected to play big roles in the Gophers’ success.
That’s why it’s important for the two to work out their niches in the early matches, like this weekend’s dual meets against Northern Iowa and Portland State.
Friday, the Gophers will travel down Interstate-35 to visit the Panthers. Then on Saturday, Minnesota will head back to campus for a visit from the Vikings.
Robinson said he expects more out of his team early on this season, because of some stiff competition it met last weekend in Las Vegas.
“We’re six weeks ahead of knowing where we are (than we were last year),” Robinson said.
Portland coach Marlin Grahn also hopes to use this weekend for his young team to prepare for a tough Pac-10 conference season.
“We’re hoping to battle them tooth and nail in every weight that we can,” Grahn said. “I think we have a shot in four or five matches.”

ù Heavyweight Brock Lesnar is still nursing a sore right leg. Robinson said Lesnar will be a match-time decision this weekend. Lesnar didn’t compete at last weekend’s Las Vegas Invite.

John R. Carter covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected].