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Minnesota & OSU Set To Battle For Top Team Ranking



When the Cowboys of Oklahoma State visit the Golden Gophers of Minnesota on Sunday, January 7, anything is possible. One thing is for certain: a solid No. 1 ranking as the best team in Division I college wrestling lies in wake for the winner. The NWCA/The Mat.com poll has Oklahoma State as No. 1 and Minnesota as No. 2, but others have it reversed. Minnesota's Williams's Arena will host up to 13,000 fans, who will come to loudly cheer on J. Robinson and his team. Williams Arena will definitely serve as a huge home field advantage, with the fans basically on top of the mat. Tensions will be running high as the Gophers return four All-Americans in sophomore Luke Becker (157), sophomore Jared Lawrence (149), senior Brad Pike (165), and junior Leroy Vega (125). The Cowboys counter with two All-Americans leading the charge in Reggie Wright (149), and Mark Munoz (197) as well as a host of All-American candidates. Oklahoma State leads the all time series with a 13-4-0 record with the last meeting being a Minnesota victory by a score of 19-15 last year. The following is a weight-by-weight breakdown of each weight class and its participants. (The predictions are the opinion of the author, and not necessarily TheMat.com or the AWA). 125 pounds - Leroy Vega (Minn.) vs. Matt Brown (OSU) All-American Leroy Vega returns for his junior campaign as a consensus lock to achieve his second piece of hardware at the NCAA Championships. Oklahoma State junior Matt Brown finally gets his chance to prove himself as a starter for the Cowboys. He has wrestled well in spots early on with his top victory coming over Bo Maynes of Oklahoma by a 3-2 margin. Vega is coming off a disappointing loss to Strittmatter of Iowa in the Midlands finals by a 12-4 major decision. With this serving as motivation for Vega, Brown could be in trouble. I see at least a major decision out of Vega who is far too experienced in big match situations. Vega gets the nod with the easy victory, 11-3. Minnesota 4, Oklahoma State 0 133 pounds - Brett Lawrence (Minn.) vs. Charles Walker (OSU) This will be an entertaining match between two wrestlers on the cusp of All-American status. Senior Charles Walker shocked the wrestling world three weeks ago with his victory over top ranked Eric Juergens of Iowa. Lawrence is a senior out of Sandpoint, Idaho who won 28 matches last year. The tall and lanky Walker could pose problems for Lawrence. I definitely see this being a match in which the crowd could put Lawrence in a position to win or keep the score low. If the latter is the case, Lawrence is right where he needs to be. If the action opens up, look for Walker to walk away with a regular decision, potentially 7-2 in favor of Walker. Minnesota 4, Oklahoma State 3 141 pounds - Chad Erikson (Minn.) vs. Jerrod Sanders (OSU) First year OSU starter Jerrod Sanders will have to step it up big time to win this match. This means he will have to pick and choose his offense and try to score in tactical situations in hopes of pulling off the upset. If Erikson forces his style, Minnesota could see bonus points. I see it the same way as Sanders will be wrestling a pinner in Minnesota's Erikson. Although never an All-American, Erikson will look to rebound off of a somewhat disappointing Midlands finish. Erikson is the clear-cut favorite in my opinion, and should walk away with a major decision. Minnesota 8, OSU 3 149 pounds - Jared Lawrence (Minn.) vs. Reggie Wright (OSU) One of three marquee match ups of the dual, this match is sure to pique the interest of even the most fickle of wrestling fans. Big Ten freshman of the Year Jared Lawrence (Brett's brother) had a stellar opening year with a sixth place finish at the NCAAs. Always in great condition, he lost a thrilling 13-12 decision at the NCAA Tournament to Reggie Wright of OSU. This match should be no less entertaining. Wright, a senior with two All-American awards to his credit is still in search of that first NCAA title, but has to go through Lawrence to get it. Lawrence looked sharp in the Midlands as he cruised to the title with an impressive 6-3 decision over Esposito of Lehigh. He will have to be at his best to beat Wright though. I am going with Wright in a very close decision. This match could very well be another high scoring affair, with both wrestlers always looking to score the fall. Minnesota 8, OSU 6 157 pounds - Luke Becker (Minn.) vs. Shane Roller (OSU) Big Ten runner-up Luke Becker has certainly proved that he is capable well beyond his years. After a freshman year that saw him take sixth place at the NCAAs, he is on track to potentially be a four time All-American. A third place finish at the Midlands convinces me that he is capable of the victory in this crucial dual meet. Shane Roller has struggled at times in his career, after being a highly-sought recruit. A major decision is not out of the question, but is unlikely considering Roller's defensive skills. Minnesota 11, OSU 6 165 pounds - Brad Pike (Minn.) vs. Ty Wilcox (OSU) This could be the match that decides the outcome of the dual. While never attaining All-American status, OSU junior Ty Wilcox has proven himself to be an extremely dangerous competitor. He has beaten some of the best competition in the country, but has never came away with an All-American award. Minnesota's last returning All-American in the lineup returns for this his senior year after placing 7th at the NCAAs. Pike lost an entertaining 4-0 decision to Heskett of Iowa State in the Midlands 2000 finals. This is a very tough call, but I am prone to lean towards Pike with his solid performance at the Midlands again being a factor in my decision. Wilcox is certainly as dangerous as anyone in the country on the mat and can put his team in a position to win the dual if he can pull out a victory. Minnesota 14, OSU 6 174 pounds - Matt Kraft (Minn.) vs. Tyrone Lewis (OSU) The Cowboys could begin a charge back into the match with redshirt freshman Tyrone Lewis coming up big for coach John Smith. I see a victory either way for OSU, regardless of which Tyrone Lewis shows up. If Lewis lays back and hangs on a lead and gets rode out on top, he could be in for a long night. Lewis, strong and very explosive, is capable of the major decision if he decides to open up. This ability will potentially come over time as he is still a young competitor. Lewis gets the nod with a major decision to step up for his teammates. Minnesota 14, OSU 10 184 pounds - Damion Hahn (Minn.) vs. Daniel Cormier (OSU) This is without a doubt the most important match of the dual. Both wrestlers have great skill and bring the crowd to their feet. Redshirt freshman Damion Hahn was the most sought after recruit in the country in 1998. Expectations are high for this prized freshman. A fourth place finish in the Midlands definitely showed he is tough, but still learning. OSU senior Cormier is a go for broke wrestler who is not your prototypical OSU wrestler. He can throw from many positions and is very skilled from the front head lock position, often putting opponents to their back from this position. Many would say this match is a toss up, and I almost agree. But for the sake of conversation, I am going with Cormier in a very tight 6-5 decision. Minnesota 14, OSU 13 197 - Owen Elzen (Minn.) vs. Mark Munoz (OSU) This weight features one of the Cowboy's mainstays of their lineup over the past four years. Munoz, a senior All-American is being counted on by the OSU staff to score big points this year, none may be bigger than this dual match up. Elzen is a very physically strong wrestler but will be susceptible to Munoz constant leg attacks. Munoz will look to score bonus points on Elzen, however, it will take a tremendous effort for that to occur. I am going with Munoz with a comfortable 8-3 decision. OSU 16, Minnesota 14 Hwt. - Mike Flannagan (Minn.) vs. James Huml (OSU) Unfortunately for the Go
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