It was senior day at the Sports Pavilion Sunday afternoon, and despite enduring a trying regular season up to this point, the Golden Gopher wrestling team did not disappoint in their final dual meet of the season. Four of the six Gopher seniors that started Sunday’s meet picked up individual wins, as the Gophers (14-7, 5-3 Big Ten) rounded out the regular season with a 23-18 victory over Ohio State (19-4, 6-2).
The Gophers’ ten seniors Mack Reiter, Manuel Rivera, C.P. Schlatter, Gabe Dretsch, Jeremy Larson, Roger Kish, Justin Bronson, Mitch Kuhlman, Dan Jackson and Jason Waidzulis entered Minnesota as the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation and have presided over a national championship and two Big Ten team titles. Sunday, they were recognized at the Sports Pavilion with family and friends in front of an announced crowd of 2,006.
On the mat, the win snapped a two-meet losing streak for the Gophers, who will now turn their attention to the 2008 Big Ten Wrestling Championships. This year’s Big Ten meet will be hosted by Minnesota for the first time since 1997 and take place in Williams Arena March 8-9.
Sunday’s meet began at 157 pounds, and despite missing last weekend’s dual meets due to an injury, senior C.P. Schlatter was hardly rusty in his match with John Johnstone of the Buckeyes. Both wrestlers are natives of Massillon, Ohio, but it was the Golden Gopher who had the upper hand Sunday. Schlatter pulled out an 8-5 win after out-scoring Johnstone 5-2 after the first period. The sixth-ranked senior rounds out the regular season with a stellar 26-2 overall record.
Tyler Safratowich took on highly-touted freshman Colt Sponseller at 165 pounds. Both wrestlers entered the match ranked (Safratowich 20th, Sponseller 8th), and the battle was a tight one in the early going. The Minnesota junior scored first with a stall warning point partway through the second and jumped to a 4-0 lead after two periods with a highly-acrobatic takedown, bringing the Gopher faithful to their feet. Safratowich held off Sponseller’s advances through the final frame to emerge the 4-2 victor.
Sponseller becomes the third ranked opponent Safratowich has beaten this season, and the second top-ten foe he has toppled. Safratowich also beat No. 5 Jake Dieffenbach of Okalahoma State on Feb. 3. He has beaten a whopping nine ranked wrestlers during the last two seasons and improved to 25-7 this season.
Another Gopher senior, 11th-ranked Dretsch, took to the mat at 174 pounds to face Alex Picazo. Dretsch had the match in hand, leading 6-2 heading into the final 30 seconds, before he was able to maneuver Picazo onto his back and gain the fall with 12 seconds remaining, to the cheers of the hometown crowd. It was the fifth pin of the season for Dretsch and allowed him to finish the regular season with a 26-9 record, including a career-best 13-6 in dual meets.
With the Gophers leading 12-0 in the dual, Minnesota’s coaching staff elected not to send out announced starter Roger Kish to face second-ranked Mike Pucillo at 184 pounds. Instead, senior Jeremy Larson got the call for the second time this season at 184. Larson lasted the entire seven minutes but was defeated by technical fall 25-6 to make the score 12-5 in favor of Minnesota.
Justin Bronson was the fourth Gopher senior in action Sunday as he took on true freshman John Weakley of OSU. Bronson wrestled his typical close-to-the-vest match, leading 1-0 after two periods (scoring on a second period escape) before winning 2-1 on the strength of 1:27 worth of riding time. The win was a crucial one in the dual (putting the Gophers up 15-5 at the time) and allowed the Gopher senior to round out his final regular season with a career-high 17 wins, including seven in dual meets.
Redshirt freshman Ben Berhow took to the mat at heavyweight following the senior day intermission ceremony, but had a tough draw in second-ranked J.D. Bergman (24-1 on the season entering Sunday). Berhow dropped a hard-fought 13-3 major decision.
Minnesota led 15-9 heading into the lightweight session of the meet. Top-ranked Jayson Ness met true freshman Nikko Triggas at 125 pounds, with Ness finishing up a perfect 33-0 regular season after the 6-0 victory. Ness cruised through the first two periods with a 4-0 lead, then tacked on a reversal in the final stanza, nearly picking up his 19th pin of the season in the process.
Ness will enter the Big Ten Championships as the prohibitive favorite and most likely the number one seed at 125 pounds.
The Gophers held a comfortable 18-9 lead in the dual when ninth-ranked senior Reiter took to the mat at 133 pounds. The Gilbertville, Iowa native successfully shrugged off his two disappointing losses last weekend with a dominating 18-2 tech fall victory over No. 13 Reece Humphrey. Reiter came out aggressively at the whistle, earning a takedown and two-point nearfall just 42 seconds into the match and then another three-point nearfall at the end of the period. He had racked up an impressive 2:24 of riding time after just three minutes of wrestling.
Reiter continued his aggressive approach over the next five minutes of action, scoring 11 more points in the final two periods of his dismantling of Humphrey. Reiter walked off the mat to a standing ovation from the Gopher crowd after picking up the tech fall and finishes his final regular season 19-6 overall. Reiter will be one of the top seeds at the upcoming Big Ten Championships.
Rivera, the fifth-ranked wrestler in the country at 141 pounds, was the final Gopher senior to take the mat Sunday afternoon. Rivera lost a hard-fought match with No. 8 J Jaggers 6-4 to finish out his regular season with a 28-6 overall record. Down 5-2 heading into the final 40 seconds of the match, Rivera scored a takedown to close the gap to 5-4 but could not pick up the match-tying points in the waning seconds.
Unfortunately Gopher fans were sent home with a sour taste in their mouths as No. 7 Lance Palmer pinned third-ranked Dustin Schlatter at 149 pounds in 3:19. It marked the first time Schlatter had been pinned in his collegiate career and was just his fourth loss as a Golden Gopher.
The team victory was the Gophers’ 13th straight over the Buckeyes, a streak that dates back to 1993. After going 0-4 in Williams Arena during the dual meet season, Minnesota finishes with a 3-0 record in the Sports Pavilion.
Minnesota’s focus now turns to the 2008 Big Ten Wrestling Championships, which will get underway in less than two weeks. The Gophers are the two-time defending conference champions and crowned four individuals (Jayson Ness, Dustin Schlatter, C.P. Schlatter and departed heavyweight Cole Konrad) at last year’s event, which was held in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The first session of the championships will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 8. Approximately 4,400 all-session tickets have been sold already, with single-session tickets set to go on sale Monday, March 3.
#9 Minnesota 23, #5 Ohio State 18
157 pounds: #6 C.P. Schlatter (MINN) dec. John Johnstone (OSU), 8-5
165 pounds: #20 Tyler Safratowich (MINN) dec. #8 Colt Sponseller (OSU), 4-2
174 pounds: #11 Gabe Dretsch (MINN) pinned Alex Picazo (OSU), 6:48
184 pounds: #2 Mike Pucillo (OSU) tech. fall Jeremy Larson (MINN), 25-6 (7:00)
197 pounds: Justin Bronson (MINN) dec. John Weakley (OSU), 2-1
285 pounds: #2 J.D. Bergman (OSU) maj. dec. Ben Berhow (MINN); 13-3
125 pounds: #1 Jayson Ness (MINN) dec. Nikko Triggas (OSU); 6-0
133 pounds: #9 Mack Reiter (MINN) tech. fall #13 Reece Humphrey (OSU); 18-2 (7:00)
141 pounds: #8 J Jaggers (OSU) dec. #5 Manuel Rivera (MINN); 6-4
149 pounds: #7 Lance Palmer (OSU) pinned #3 Dustin Schlatter 3:19