Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
It's a three-team race for the NCAA wrestling title.
Three-time defending champion Penn State has 91 points, two wrestlers in the finals, and five in the wrestlebacks, three in hunt for third, two for seventh.
The Gophers are almost in the exact same spot, with 90.5 points, two in the finals, four in the wrestlebacks going for third, one for seventh.
Then there is homestate favorite Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have four in the finals, one in consolation and 87.5 points.
All three have legitimate shots to win it all.
Here are four key matches that could swing the title race:
At 157 pounds, the final between Dylan Ness of the Gophers and Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State. Going to be big point swing here. ... Ness came in as ninth seed, but has four wins, the first three by pins. He is 27-6 and hot. Dieeringer, the third seed, is 35-1.
Ness said he expects a great watch. Is willing to take risks. Even go on his back for points, which Dieringer said he would never do. Ness said, whose style has been called funky, said even he doesn't know what he will do on the mat sometimes.
Ness was second as a freshman in the NCAA meet, Dieringer was third last year.
At 165, David Taylor of Penn State, 35-0 and the top seed, faces Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State in the final. Another big points swing match. If Cowboys can win both, would sure help their chances. Caldwell is 28-3 and the second seed.
At 174, in the wrestlebacks, Logan Storley of Gophers wrestles Matt Brown of Penn State. Winner advances to third place match. Both are 36-7. Brown is 4-1 in NCAA meet, Storley 3-1.
At heavyweight, Tony Nelson, 34-4 and the top seed, faces second seeded Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State in the finals. He is 46-2. Nelson is going for his third consecutive NCAA title. Nobody in U's rich wrestling history has won three. This is last match of the finals, and if Gophers are close to the lead, Nelson could put them over the top. He said he changed his training regimen after four late-season losses. Worked more on moving his feet, always staying active. Had more 20-30 minute intense workouts, rather than longer, grind-it-out workouts. Nelson calls the G-man from NC State athetic and agile.
Almost halfway through its regular-season -- without playing a single home game, the Gophers softball team is an impressive 22-3.
They have traveled to six different states to play: Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Oklahoma. ... Lost to the nation's No. 1 team, Florida; beat Arizona State, then No. 3, and Louisiana State, then No. 17.
The Gophers have repeatedly shown they are for real. They lead the Big Ten in ERA, 1.57, in shutouts, 11, and strikeouts, 238. Mostly because they have an ace, senior righthander Sara Moulton.
She won her 100th career game when the Gophers edged South Carolina 1-0 on Wednesday and is 15-2 this seson with a 1.17 ERA.
This team can also handle a bat. The Gophers' batting average is only .294, fifth in the Big Ten. But they are first in homers with 30, in RBI with 131 and in slugging percentage at .509. They have a bit of speed, too. Their 37 steals are the third most in the conference.
And they can field adequately. Their .965 fielding percentage is fifth in the Big Ten.
Here's a look at Gophers' batting order -- scary at the top:
Shortstop Tyler Walker leads off. She is hitting .380 and has scored a team-high 24 runs. She gets on any way she can. Walker has walked four times and been hit by a pitch six times. She has some pop: four doubles, four triples, two homers. Has 20 RBI, second on team. And some speed, seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Good contact hitter, with only nine strikeouts.
Second baseman Erica Meyer bats second. She hits only .250 but has scored 17 runs, had seven sacrifice bunts or flies. Has hit four homers and like Walker is 7-for-8 on steal attempts.
Hitting third is the stick that stirs the Gophers' offense, to borrow a line associated with Reggie Jackson at one time. Third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson is hitting a robust .446, with five homers and 27 RBI, all tops on the team, in 25 games. Her slugging percentage is .800. She has scored 22 runs and walked a team-high 21 times. Teams pitch carefully to her. Only five strikeouts.
The cleanup hitter is a freshman, Sara Groenewegen. She is the team's second pitcher and when not in the circle, the designated player. She is hitting .274. Has six doubles, a triple and four homers and 16 RBI. Nice to have someone like Groenewegen behind Richardson so she gets some pitches to hit.
Bree Blanchette, the centerfielder, bats fifth. She is hitting only .243 but her 17 hits have helped drive in 14 runs and she has scored 13. Has eight walks.
No. 6 hitter Taylor Lemay, the catcher, has a team-high six homers and 14 RBI. She is hitting .283 with a .600 slugging percentage. She has scored 13 runs. The Gophers had a big hole to fill behind the plate when Kari Dorle graduated, but LeMay has done the job.
Leftfielder Sydney Fabian is the No. 7 hitter. She is hitting a solid .304 with 14 runs scored and 11 RBI.
Hannah Melick the first baseman hits eighth. She has struggled at the plate. She is hitting .132 with four RBI.
Kayla Wenner, the rightfielder, bats No. 9. She is hitting a low .184 with seven RBI and 11 walks.
The Gophers are No. 16 in one national poll, No. 19 in another. They play No. 15/17 Nebraska(19-8) at 6 p.m. Friday at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln in their conference opener. Not the easiest place to win.
They are averaging 5.72 runs per game.
Minnesota is hoping to play Illinois next weekend at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, its home field, weather permitting. That's a big if, of course.
Blake Hoffarber was only a sophomore in 2005, playing for his uncle Ken Novak, Jr., at Hopkins.
The Royals were in the Class 4A title game against a talented Eastview team, and trailed 58-56 with 2.5 seconds left in the second overtime. It looked bleak. A long in-bounds throw from one end of the court to the other had Hopkins and Eastview players battling for position.
Hoffarber fell to the floor, but somehow the ball wound up in his hands and, with his butt on the court near the three-point line, he heaved the ball up. Swish.
The officials conferred: Was it a two, a three? Did Hoffarber get the shot off in time? Did he travel?
And the rest ... well you probably know. Hopkins won the game in two overtimes, 71-60. The Lightning was obviously deflated and didn't mount much of a fight in the second extra period. Hoffarber won an ESPY the following summer for Best Play of the Year.
So Amir Coffey's long three-pointer -- TV sportscaster Chris Long said on Twitter that he measured it at 57 feet -- was a great play and finish. It gave the Royals a 49-46 win over Shakopee in the state semifinals.
Coffey is a sophomore, too. Like Hoffarber was.
But Hoffarber's shot was more remarkable. You don't practice that shot.
Later, he made it again for KARE-TV. It took him 19 or 24 tries, depending who's telling the story. He also made it on national TV on "The Today Show" on his fifth try.
Royals fans still remember Hoffarber's shot and now have another great one to savor.
Too bad much of the end of the game was a snoozefest because the Sabers stayed in their zone and the Royals just held onto the ball. Maybe this will cause the Minnesota State High School League to look at a shot clock.
There is one other great shot I vividly remember in the years I covered high school sports. It came in the 1996 state quarterfinals.
Minneapolis North, with Khalid El-Amin, was trailing St. Thomas Academy 65-64 with seconds left. El-Amin got the ball in transition and launched a 23-foot jumper. Much, much shorter than Coffey's shot.
But it went in. It was his ninth three-pointer and gave him 41 points.
He was so excited he jumped onto the courtside table used by broadcasters and the stats crew. And then he jumped down on the other side. Maybe he was trying to reach North fans in the stands quicker. I'm not sure.
What makes the story better, though, is all his teammates followed him. All jumped on the table and off the other side.
He was a leader and everyone followed him. No matter where he led. Sure stunned some media members, I bet. I wasn't close to the "route" El-Amin took to the stands.
Hard to forget that game.
First the news in Tuesday's metro section of the Star Tribune. Headline: Golf coach fired by U is awarded $360,000.
A Hennepin County judge awarded Katie Brenny the money, writing Brenny had been subjected to disparate treatment based on her sexual orientation (she is a lesbian) the brief time -- under two months -- she was the U associate head women's golf coach in 2010.
The story is here.
In Sports there is another story: Co-medalist lead Laorr leads U women to rare tournament title
It's been six years since the Gophers got to celebrate a title (Diablo Grande Intercollegiate, March 18, 2008 in Patterson, Calif.).
But Tuesday the Gophers won the Entrada Classic, a 16-team tournament in Utah, by eight shots over host BYU with a 931 total. Wisconsin was third 11 shots back and No. 27 California was fourth 12 shots back. Indiana and Iowa finished in the middle of the pack.
The Gophers shot a tournament-low 301 in the third round of the 54-hole event.
Gopher Anna Laorr tied Alexis Nelson of Wisconsin for lowest score, but was awarded first based on having the low final round.
Laorr shot a 6-over 222, and closed with an even-par 72 at Snow Canyon Country Club, her best round as a Gopher. Nelson had a 77 her final round.
Teresa Puga was the last Gopher to win a tournament three years ago, the UCF Challenge on Feb. 15, 2011
“I’m really proud of the way we competed throughout the tournament especially with the way we battled back to pick up the win today,” Gophers coach Michele Redman said. “The conditions weren’t great with some wind, but we overcame that. We’ve kept working hard all season, and we’re starting to see that pay off now. The whole team has supported each other and pushed each other, and that’s great to see as a coach.”
“I couldn’t be happier for Anna,” Redman said. “She played well for us, made smart decisions, and it’s great to see her pick up her first win.”
Laorr, a junior from Eden Prairie, Minn., finished fifth at the tournament last year with an eight-over 222. (Must have made a few course changes.) Last summer Laorr won the Minnesota Women's Golf Association Match Play Championship on August 1.
“I was pretty excited [Tuesday] to be honest, this is my favorite course,” Laorr said. “For about five months, I’ve been trying not to put too much pressure on myself for this tournament. The course played very different than last year, but we played well as a team, and it’s great to be able to celebrate a win together.”
Teammate Carmen Laguna finished tied for 14th (236) while Emie Peronnin tied for 20th (239).
The women's team has been showing signs something like this was coming.
It has had three of the top five rounds in program history before this tournament.
The Gophers shot a 4-under 284 on Feb. 18 of the Central Invitational in Sarosota, Fla., to finish with an 875 total, the third best 54-hole tournament score ever.
Earlier at the University of Central Florida Classic, the team had rounds of 295, 287 and 287 for an 869 total to finish fifth in that event.
The 284 and two 287s are among Minnesota's top-five low rounds.
MEN ON FIRE, TOO
The U of M men's golf team is off to a great start as well.
It won the Del Walker Intercollegiate Golf Classic in Long Beach, Calif., on March 3-4.
Jon Trasmar took fourth place as an individual, teammate Alex Gaugert tied for fifth.
It was the second win of the 2013-14 season for the men, a feat they last accomplished in 2006-07 when they tied for first at both the U.S. Intercollegiate and the Big Ten Championship.
The Gophers had rounds of 280, 276 and 280 for a 4-under 836 total. That was good enough to beat Arizona and California-Santa Barbara by one stroke. Host Long Beach State was two back.
Trasamar finished 4-under with rounds of 66, 70 and 70. During his last round, he had a double bogey on the 10th but recovered with an eagle on the par-5 12th.
Gaugert shot a 69 in each round of the tournament to finish one stroke behind Trasamar at 3-under. Trasamer's fourth-place was his second top-10 finish of the season, Gaugert's fifth was his third top 10.
Jose Mendez tied for 12th, shooting a 69 in the final round. Jon DuToit tied for 30th at 4 over.
The Gophers won their first tournament since that 2006-07 season last fall on Oct. 21. They took first in the 14-team Barnabas Health Intercollegiate in Bedminster, N.J., by 17 shots. There were 14 teams in the field.
Trasamar was second there with rounds of 72 and 66 for a 6-under 138. Guagert took fourth with a 1-under 143.
One other men's highlight this season came on Feb. 15 when they took fifth in the Big Ten Match Play Championships in Bradenton, Fla. The Gophers beat top seed Illinois 3-2 in their second-to-last match.
After the Gophers women's basketball team beat Indiana, coach Pam Borton said, "if we can go .500 in the Big Ten, then we're in great shape for the NCAA Tournament."
Well, her Gophers did win their next game, versus Ohio State, to get to 8-8 but ... the Gophers are not in great shape at all.
I have to make a confession -- it's good for the soul, right? -- I am a bracketology expert.
At least, as college hockey goes. All the tournament winners get into the NCAA field and then you just look at the PairWise rankings -- which some hockey/numbers cruncher genius devised -- and count down from the top, excluding tournament champs, until you get to 16.
That's the NCAA tournament field. Easy. 100 percent accurate. Don't need s selection committee except to decide what regions to send team.
In women's basketball, bracketology is a little more complicated. But I'm going to give it a shot with the help of the Internet. There's a lot of stuff on it, a wise sports columnist once said
And I found the S-factor by accident the other day, so I am well-armed. All I'm really trying to figure out is if the Gophers are in.
It (the S Factor) can be found here.
What does it try to do?
The College Women's Hoops S-Factor is a formula that attempts to mimic the choices made by the Selection Committee for the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Tournament every March.
The S-Factor uses the following data to rank each team:
- conference regular season performance
- conference tournament performance
- wins against good and great teams
- losses against bad and terrible teams
- strength of conference
- overall record against all teams
Is it accurate? In 2013, the S-Factor correctly predicted 62 out of the 64 teams.
That's pretty darn good.
And as of today, the S-factor has the Gophers in, hanging by a thread as an 11th seed.
An 11th seed, but isn't that pretty good? Nope.
Here's why. Of the 24 teams seeded 11 through 16 a years ago, 22 were tournament champions who received automatic bids. Only Kansas (18-13), 7th in the Big 12 and West Virginia (17-13), tied for 5th in the Big East 12 got seeded that low as at-large teams. Kansas was a 12th seed, West Virigina an 11th seed. So they were the last two at-large teams in. ... That's about the spot the Gophers are in.
The Gophers, 19-11, 8-8 tied for sixth in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten had six teams in the Big Dance a year ago, all of them won 20 games in the regular season. Penn St. was a third seed, Big Ten tournament champion Purdue was a fourth seed, Michigan State a fifth, Nebraska a sixth and Iowa (21-13, 8-8) a ninth. Nobody was on the bubble.
That's not the case in 2014. Five Big Ten teams all have 20 wins and winning conference marks of at least 11-5. They are all in, easily.
The Gophers are only 8-8 in the conference. Only four teams with .500 conference marks made the 2013 tournament and only one, 8-10 Kansas, with an under .500 conference mark.
Another problem for the Gophers is their resume. Frankly, it's not very impressive.
They were 0-7 versus the five NCAA tournament teams in the Big Ten, and 8-1 against Michigan (the other 8-8 team in the conference) and the five teams below them in the standings.
Looking at their nonconference record of 13-3, the Gophers didn't play a single team that is assured of being in the NCAA field.
Their best win was over Southern Conference regular-season champion Chattanooga (26-3, No. 44 RPI). They also beat Patriot champion Navy (23-6, No. 56), Mountain West champion Colorado St. (22-6, No. 87) and Big Sky champion North Dakota (20-8, No. 93).
But all those teams will have to win their conference tournaments to get automatic bids. No real big win anywhere. The Gophers' other nine nonconference wins came against four teams who were between one and five games over .500 and three teams below .500.
Of the 32 conferences who receive automatic bids, 23 only had one NCAA team last season. Won't be much different this year.
So the conferences to watch for the Gophers are the ACC, with five NCAA teams last year, the Big 12 (7), the Big East (8), the Pac 12 (4) and the SEC (7).
This year, the S-factor has the ACC with seven, the Big 12 with five, the reconfigured Big East with two, the Pac 12 with four and the SEC with seven. ... If one or two unexpected teams make a strong run in the conference tournaments, the bubble could burst for teams barely in the tournament now.
The S-factor has the Gophers, Central Michigan and Fordham as the three newest teams in.
ESPN has the Gophers, Florida, Florida St. and Oregon St. on the bubble as the last four in.
Collegesportsmadness.com has the Gophers out.
RealTimeRPI.com has the Gophers' RPI at No. 38 (RPI is is a quantity used to rank sports teams based upon a team's wins and losses and its strength of schedule) and strength of schedule at No. 19.
That's all good, but a win against lowly Wisconsin in the Gophers' first Big Ten tournament game -- which would be the Gophers' third win over the Badgers this season -- won't help the U much in resume-building.
How about the Gophers getting to 20th wins if they beat the Badgers? Doesn't mean all that much. The Pac-12 and SEC, two major conferences, both had two 20-win teams last season left out of the Big Dance.
To ensure getting into the NCAA, the Gophers better beat Wisconsin and third seed Nebraska in the quarterfinals. A win over the Cornhuskers would be Minnesota's first this season over a team that would get an at-large bid even if it doesn't win its conference tournament.
That's what is called a quality win.
And they are certainly capable of it. The Gophers lost in Lincoln in overtime this season the only time they played Nebraska.
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