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.
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