A Narrow Escape

The University of Minnesota wrestling team's dream of winning its first national title was in jeopardy last Friday night, March 16. Competing before a hostile crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, six Gopher wrestlers marched to the mat in the semifinals of the national championships. And, one by one, they walked off defeated. Heading into the final day of competition on Saturday, the squad trailed a hungry University of Iowa--the hometown team and six-time defending national champs--by a narrow margin. Still, thanks to the system by which wrestling meets are scored, the Gopher team remained very much in the hunt. In order to win, they'd have to demolish the competition in the consolation bouts--and hope that other schools managed to keep Iowa's wrestlers down.

On Saturday morning ten Gopher wrestlers, each of whom was stiff and sore from having endured at least four matches over the previous 48 hours, rebounded. Leroy Vega commenced the comeback, capturing third place in the 125-pound division. Owen Elzen, a 197-pounder, and heavyweight Garrett Lowney capped the a.m. session by scoring pins in their third-place matches. By noon the Gophers had all but clinched the title. When Iowa's Jody Strittmatter lost in the finals later that day, it was official: Minnesota had captured its first championship. And the team had done so in unprecedented fashion: For the first time in tournament history, ten All-Americans were crowned from a single school, and a squad that failed to send a wrestler to the individual finals in any weight class took home the trophy.