Gophers hope to stick it to Hawkeyes at Big Tens

It’s been nearly two weeks since the second-ranked Gophers wrestling team lost a heartbreaker to No. 1 Iowa at Williams Arena.
Think they’re over it?
Think again.
“I don’t know what everybody else is thinking, but I’m pretty pissed off about the Iowa match,” Gophers freshman Luke Becker said. “I want to go in there and stick it to them.”
Minnesota will get its chance to “stick it to” Iowa — and every other conference foe — this weekend at the Big Ten championships down in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Gophers won last year’s conference tournament, ending Iowa’s run of 25-straight Big Ten titles.
But the philosophy for the Gophers heading into this weekend is a different one than most might assume of a defending champion.
“We’re going out not to defend a Big Ten title, but to win another one,” Becker said. “That is basically the attitude.”
That attitude has been stressed by Minnesota coach J Robinson at every practice for the past two weeks.
“We have to go there to win,” Robinson said. “You wrestle different when you’re defending something as opposed to trying to win something. A win means you’re trying to get something. When you’re defending, you’re trying to keep everybody away from it.
“It’s the old adage, the best defense is an offense. We have to go get it, we can’t stand around and expect it to come to us.”
But if the Gophers want to leave the mats at Purdue with their second straight Big Ten trophy, they’ll need big performances from all 10 weight classes.
That’s something that didn’t happen in Minnesota’s loss to Iowa at The Barn. The Hawkeyes beat the Gophers 20-13 two weeks ago.
“It was a step back, but we readjust and go back at it,” Robinson said. “We still haven’t got to where all of us have wrestled great at one meet yet. We’ve been building, building and building.”
Two of the guys Minnesota will rely heavily on this weekend are sophomore Leroy Vega at 125 pounds and senior Brock Lesnar at heavyweight.
The two returning All-Americans didn’t wrestle their best in the meet against Iowa. They’ll have to change their styles if they want to become Big Ten champs.
Robinson said Vega has to wrestle the entire match, something he didn’t do against the Hawkeyes’ Jody Strittmatter.
“I’ve got to attack (the whole match),” Vega said. “I’ve got to let him know I can take him down at will.”
Lesnar, who lost to the Hawkeyes’ Wes Hand, will have to attack early and often on the heavyweight — something Hand doesn’t like to do.
“Brock is going to have to realize Hand is going to wrestle a different kind of match,” Robinson said. “He’s not going to do a whole lot.
“Hand doesn’t want to get in there and fight with him. He’ll hang back and wait for Brock to make a mistake.”
With last year’s stars Tim Hartung and Chad Kraft now assistant coaches, the Gophers are going to need big things from Lesnar, Vega and everyone else if they expect to win another title.
But if Minnesota has one thing going for them mentally, it’s the realization it can’t rely on last year, and each wrestler will need to step up this time around.
“Last year we were the Big Ten champions, but that was last year,” Vega said. “Last year we had a different team. We have something to win, and that’s the 2000 Big Ten championships.”

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