CHAMPAIGN The 2002 Big Ten Championships belonged to No. 1 Minnesota. In the process of winning the Big Tens by a 45-point margin, the Golden Gophers had seven finalists and four individual champions.
While Minnesota monopolized first place with 174 points, the second-place slot was clearly up for grabs between No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Iowa and No. 5 Ohio State. With seven wrestlers seeded third or better, No. 2 Michigan had an excellent chance of staking its claim as the Big Ten”s second-best team. But seedings mean little when you underachieve.
Iowa, the victor of this second-place free-for-all, won close matches and scored upsets over favored opponents.
As their loud fans cheered surprising performances from young wrestlers like No. 6 seed Luke Eustice (second place at 125 pounds) and No. 6 seed Luke Moffitt (141 pound champion), the Hawkeyes won two individual titles and beat out the disappointing Wolverines 129-121.5.
“They had a lot of young guys step up,” said McFarland.
The Wolverines, even with all their high seeds, appeared tentative and emotionally flat. With 133-pounder Foley Dowd and 125-pounder A.J. Grant seeded third in their draws, it appeared that Michigan would get off to a strong start in the quarterfinals. Instead, a 4-1 upset loss by No. 3 seed Dowd to Illinois” No. 6 Chad Hay left the Wolverines staggering out of the gate.
Afterwards, McFarland admitted the quarterfinal upset “affected us right off the bat.”
While Dowd struggled to a seventh-place finish and Grant finished fourth, Michigan staved off Ohio State for third place by relying on its veterans. Undefeated and top-ranked 174 pounder Otto Olson continued his streak by beating Iowa”s Taylor Nixt, 3-2. Although Olson appeared uncomfortable wrestling defensively in the final, the senior won his second consecutive individual Big Ten title by scoring a takedown early and riding the lead until the end.
Senior captain Andy Hrovat landed in the final against Minnesota rival Damion Hahn by handily winning the quarterfinals and semifinals, 13-1 and 10-4. Locked in a tight match, Hrovat needed a takedown in the third period, behind 5-3. Although Hrovat took shot after shot at Hahn, the Minnesota wrestler refused to yield.
Instead, Hahn took advantage of the lunging Hrovat with countermoves and scored a clinching takedown with one minute left, winning 8-4.
While Hrovat expected to be in the final, freshman Ryan Bertin (157 pounds) turned some heads as he battled his way to a finals showdown with Minnesota”s No. 1 Luke Becker.
Bertin, down 5-3, made a furious effort to score on Becker, but the favorite used his strength to hold off Bertin and win. Despite the loss, Bertin”s teammates were optimistic about his future prospects.
“The kid”s going to be outstanding he”ll be competing for the title the next three years,” Olson said. Bertin typifies “what the Michigan athlete is about.”
On another positive note, Michigan senior heavyweight Matt Brink overcame his midseason knee injury and a difficult draw to finish fourth.
Brink”s narrow consolation semifinal loss to Minnesota”s No. 3 Garrett Lowney indicated that the senior could make noise against top competition at nationals in two weeks.