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Cody Yohn, left, and Iowa's Nick Moore wrestled at 165 pounds at Williams Arena

Kyndell Harkness, Dml - Star Tribune

Reusse: Gophers wrestling gets a crowd, but loses to Iowa

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2013 - 10:24 PM

There were 156 high school boys' hockey teams in Minnesota in the winter of 2011-12, with 5,589 participants at the varsity, junior varsity and freshman level. There were 250 wrestling teams, with 8,137 participants.

Yet, when it comes to media attention devoted to a sport, wrestling remains an orphan in comparison to boys' hockey, and also to boys' basketball, with its 427 teams and 13,481 participants.

The same situation exists at the University of Minnesota, where the Gophers wrestling program has won three NCAA championships and has been a national powerhouse for more than two decades.

Gophers coach J Robinson has fought gamely to put a spotlight on his team -- circling a dual meet on the schedule with Oklahoma State, Iowa or another mighty opponent, then pushing for publicity to bring a large crowd to Williams Arena.

That attraction came Saturday afternoon, when No. 4-rated Iowa took on the No. 3-rated Gophers in a match of Big Ten elite.

The crowd was estimated at a sizable 8,000. Hundreds of Iowa fans were in the audience. Everything was in place for a lively match, except Robinson.

The Gophers coach continues to recover from a gruesome surgery, when he was forced to have a knee replacement removed because of infection. Robinson was tempted to try to get to Saturday's match but wasn't feeling the best. He decided to watch from home on the Big Ten Network.

Presumably, he didn't see what he hoped from his team. The Gophers won the last four bouts with decisions from their bottom-heavy lineup to earn a 15-15 tie on the scoreboard, but Iowa took the tie-breaker with a 41-33 advantage in points earned by individual wrestlers.

Final score: Iowa 16, Minnesota 15.

The Gophers are now 5-1 in the Big Ten and 12-2 overall in duals. Iowa is 5-0 in the Big Ten, 15-1 overall. What the teams have in common are losses to No. 2-rated Oklahoma State.

Brandon Eggum, a Gophers' great now in his 12th season as a Robinson assistant, has been serving as the head coach during matches. Eggum could be heard talking long and unhappily in the locker room after the match.

"Not getting the win is frustrating," Eggum said to reporters. "We know we're the better team.''

The 10-match lineups were filled with top-rated wrestlers. The Hawkeyes offered up Matt McDonough (125) and Derek St. John (157), both national No. 1s and Tony Ramos, No. 2 at 133. The Gophers had a pair of No. 2s in Logan Storley at 174 and Tony Nelson at heavyweight.

There were matches that were difficult even for the wrestling experts to handicap: Iowa's No. 9 Mark Ballweg vs. No. 8 Nick Dardanes at 141; Minnesota's No. 10 Cody Yohn vs. No. 17 Nick Moore at 165; and Storley against Iowa's No. 4 Mike Evans.

Two of the three went against the Gophers: Ballweg's 3-1 victory over Dardanes, and Moore's 8-2 decision over Yohn.

The Moore victory gave Iowa a 15-3 lead, and put the Gophers in a position to need a sweep of the final four matches -- and either a major decision or a pin to keep the outcome away from a tie-breaker.

The most tense match of the day was Storley's 4-3 victory over Evans. The Gophers could have been done right then, with three matches left, if Storley had not fought through a potential point-scoring hold from Evans in the closing seconds.

"Logan did a good job at the end," Eggum said. "That's him. He knows how to win.''

Storley is a true sophomore and stands at 17-1 this winter. He comes from a farm outside Roslyn, S.D., a burgh of 250. Roslyn kids go to high school at Webster, with its wrestling program that is legendary in South Dakota.

The No. 1 legend is Brock Lesnar. John Schiley coached Lesnar; he's now retired and follows the current protégé, Storley, from match to match with the Gophers.

"He was here today," Storley said. "Wrestling is a way of life in Webster, and he's a big reason for that.''

Storley had not wrestled Evans previously.

"I had four matches against the guy [Ethen Lofthouse] that Kevin Steinhaus wrestled today at 184," Storley said. "Evans is tough. I'm sure we'll go at it again before the season's over."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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