Top ranked Gophers make run at second place

By Craig Sesker | March 23, 2006, 12:06 p.m. (ET)
OKLAHOMA CITY - There is no question the Minnesota Gophers are the team of the future in college wrestling.

With a loaded lineup of youngsters and just one senior starter, the top-ranked team in the land will be the clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA Championships next year.

But the Gophers aren't looking ahead just yet. They wanted to win it this year, but a rough first couple of days prevented that from happening as No. 2 Oklahoma State locked up its fourth straight title Friday night.

Even with its title hopes dashed, Minnesota still wanted to finish strong Saturday. That started with sophomore Mack Reiter placing fourth in a loaded 133-pound class. The Gophers had three wrestlers - Dustin Schlatter (149), Roger Kish (184) and Cole Konrad (heavyweight) - going for titles.

Minnesota was in third place after the consolation finals with 76 points, just 4.5 behind second-place and sixth-ranked Oklahoma. The Cowboys were on top with 114.5 points. Iowa, ranked 11th, is fourth with 70 points and will remain there after the finals.

"We took a pretty big hit team-wise on (Friday) morning," Reiter said. "We had a team meeting and we talked about coming back strong and trying to finish this tournament on a positive note. We really took that to heart and we're still wrestling as hard we can.

"We always knew we were going to be good next year and we'll be expected to win it next year. But we wanted to win it this year," Reiter said.

Top seed Shawn Bunch of Edinboro rebounded nicely from a tough semifinal loss to Purdue's Chris Fleeger with a pair of wins Saturday to place third at 133. Bunch, a senior who was second last year, plans to compete at the U.S. Nationals in freestyle next month in Las Vegas.

"I didn't reach my ultimate goal in college, but it was still a good career," Bunch said. "It was hard to come back today, but I knew what I had to do mentally to come back and place third. I wanted to go out on a winning note. I feel real good about winning these last two matches."

The tradition-laden Hawkeyes, a team that dominated this event in the 1980s and 1990s, will cart home one of the four team trophies. Iowa struggled to a sixth-place finish in the Big Tens, but will be fourth here. The Hawkeyes have one finalist in senior Ty Eustice (149).

Iowa sophomore Mark Perry, a finalist at 165 in 2005, came back from a semifinal loss to Northwestern's Jake Herbert to win twice Saturday and place third at 174. Perry has been battling a neck injury all season.

"This tournament was a positive and something we can build on," Iowa coach Jim Zalesky said. "Last year we were seventh and this year we were fourth, plus we had one more All-American this year."

Zalesky was asked about how difficult it has been with the pressure on him to win in Iowa City.

"Iowa is kind of like the Yankees - everyone expects you to win," Zalesky said. "It doesn't matter what year it is, they expect to see you on top. Seeing guys become national champions and All-Americans, that's what it's all about. We put a lot of work in and we hope that it pays off."

American's Muzaffar Abdurakmanov (165) came back to place third after dropping a controversial 4-3 loss to Oklahoma State's Johny Hendricks in Friday night's semifinals.

The match was tied 3-3 in the final minute when Abdurakmanov was in on a single-leg shot near the edge of the mat. Hendricks managed to get out of bounds and referee Kevin Tann called Abdurakmanov for stalling, awarding Hendricks a point. A number of fans booed the decision and Abdurakmanov was still fuming about the call Saturday after he took third.

"I have no clue what that referee was thinking," Abdurakmanov said. "There was no way I was stalling. I shot in, the guy goes out of bounds and they give the guy a point. I don't understand that at all. I still can't believe it ... I want to say thanks to that ref, who screwed me yesterday. I hope he feels good about that."

Top seeds who were upset had varying degrees of success in the consolation finals Saturday. Top seeds Nick Simmons of Michigan State (125), Trent Paulson of Iowa State (157) and Josh Glenn of American (184) each finished fourth while No. 1 seed Wynn Michalak of Central Michigan (197) took eighth.