Commentary

Freshmen gain experience in draw

Originally Published: February 14, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

The mat at Minnesota's Sports Pavilion sort of doubled as a laboratory Sunday. It was something of an experiment in seeing whose redshirt freshmen responded the best in this high-caliber, late-season dual meet between the host Gophers and Penn State.

Penn State-Minnesota
Jerry LeeWith the NCAA tournament quickly approaching, hard-fought matches give wrestlers valuable experience.

Two redshirt freshmen for the Nittany Lions (David Taylor and Ed Ruth) and one for the Gophers (Kevin Steinhaus) won their matches. The overall result between No. 3 Penn State and No. 5 Minnesota was an 18-18 draw, after which both squads could look back and pinpoint key moments that could have given either the victory.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. For so many young and promising wrestlers, experiencing just how crucial each second in a match can be through the vague frustration of a team tie is another lesson under their belts.

Next Sunday, Minnesota will conclude the regular season hosting No. 2 Iowa on what will be a special day for the Gophers. They'll honor the silver anniversary of coach J Robinson, one of the sport's grand masters. Robinson, a Vietnam veteran and Olympian, is in his 25th season at Minnesota.

Iowa, which beat Michigan 30-7 this past weekend, leads the Big Ten at 7-0, with Minnesota second at 6-0-1. Penn State, third in the league at 5-1-1, will end the regular season Friday, hosting No. 12 Wisconsin.

The Big Ten championships are March 5-6 in Evanston, Ill., and as always, they will be a very intense dress rehearsal for the NCAA meet, which is March 17-19 in Philadelphia.

Sunday's meet in Minneapolis spotlighted some wrestlers who seem likely to blossom into potential national champions. Still, they're learning as they go.

Penn State's Taylor, who's ranked No. 3 in the nation at 157 pounds, and Ruth, ranked No. 2 at 174, both could look at their victories against Minnesota as dominant … but not quite enough.

It may not sound fair to say that especially in regard to Taylor, who controlled his bout start to finish against Matt Mincey in a 16-1 technical fall decision. But Taylor clearly was peeved as he left the mat because he didn't pin Mincey to earn six points instead of five.

Similarly, Ruth's 12-5 decision was nearly a major decision. But Minnesota's Scott Glasser was able to scramble for an escape in the final second, thus surrendering just three points in the loss rather than four.

Meanwhile, the Gophers' Steinhaus probably also hoped for the pin. But his 10-1 major decision against Quentin Wright at 184 still set the table for a potential Gophers victory in the meet. It was followed at 197 by a 10-2 major decision by Minnesota's Sonny Yohn over Nick Ruggear.

That put the team score at 18-15 in the Gophers' favor going into the finale at heavyweight. And, as was the case at 197, experience prevailed: a redshirt junior beat a redshirt freshman. This time, though, it went in favor of Penn State, as Cameron Wade edged Tony Nelson in a defensive standoff 2-0.

Among other matches of note were No. 5 Frank Molinaro's gritty escape 6-5 against Minnesota redshirt freshman Danny Zilverberg at 149, and a 10-8 victory at 125 by the Gophers' Zach Sanders over Brad Pataky. The latter match was significant as it marked the senior Pataky's return to competition after being out since Jan. 8 with an injury.

There was also a lot of anticipation for the 141-pound match, where Minnesota senior Mike Thorn got a 4-1 victory over outstanding true freshman Andrew Alton.

Robinson and Penn State coach Cael Sanderson no doubt will point out to their wrestlers the opportunities that were lost in various matches Sunday. But they also know the plus side of that: It will help those athletes figure out how to cash in more in the future.

• Big Red wave: Princeton just didn't stand any chance in its visit to No. 1 Cornell on senior day Saturday. Cornell won 44-0, and now concludes its wrestling regular season with Ivy League meets on the road at Brown and Harvard this Friday and Saturday. Then the Big Red go to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships March 5-6 in Lewisburg, Pa.

• Cal snaps Stanford streak: The Bay area rivalry played out dramatically in women's swimming Saturday, as host No. 4 Cal upset No. 1 Stanford -- the Cardinal's first loss in a dual meet since 2007. Stanford had 33 victories in a row, but that streak ended with the Bears' win in the final event: the 400-yard free relay.

The resulting 155-145 triumph was just the fifth time Cal has ever defeated Stanford; the last was in 2006. Cal sophomore Caitlin Leverenz won the 100 and 200 breaststroke races and the 200 individual medley.

Next up for Cal and Stanford is the Pac-10 championships, Feb. 23-26 in Federal Way, Wash.

Meanwhile, the Cal and Stanford men's swimming and diving teams -- ranked first and second, respectively, in the nation -- meet Saturday in Berkeley in their regular-season finale.

Track tidbits: Oregon's Jordan Hasay ran the fastest collegiate women's mile so far this year. Her time of 4 minutes, 34.75 seconds was runner-up to professional competitor Lauren Bonds by a tenth of a second at this weekend's Husky Invitational in Seattle.

•  Oklahoma sprinter Mookie Salaam clocked this year's second-fastest men's 60-meter time in the world -- 6.54 seconds in the semifinals -- at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. He then won the final in 6.59 seconds.

•  They sound like character descriptions in a standard PBS drama from across the Atlantic Ocean, but they actually are real names of collegiate sprinters: Kind Butler and English Gardner.

Butler, a sprinter for Indiana, was fifth in the men's 60 meters at the Tyson Invitational. Gardner, a freshman who is from New Jersey and made the trek across the country to run for Oregon, is one of the Ducks' most promising young sprinters on the women's side.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.