Maryland honored seniors Spencer Myers, Tony Gardner, Ben Dorsay, Josh Polacek, Rob Fitzgerald, T.J. Guidice, Sean O'Malley and Frank Goodwin before the match.
A Little About the Golden Gophers
Minnesota was the NCAA Runner-up last year in Oklahoma City, losing by only 5.5 points. They took third in 2012-2013 and in 2011-2012, they were the runner-ups and their head coach, J Robinson, was named the 2012 National Coach of the Year.
So Minnesota's recent three-year run at the NCAAs has been:
2011-2012: 2nd place (7 All-Americans)
2012-2013: 3rd place (8 All-Americans)
2013-2014: 2nd place (7 All-Americans)
The Golden Gophers consistently place a bunch of guys on the podium every year. They returned most of last year's All-Americans. They are:
Chris Dardanes (ranked #1 at 133) - took 4th in 2011-2012, took 6th in 2012-2013
Nick Dardanes (ranked #4 at 141) - took 7th in 2012-2013
Dylan Ness (ranked #1 at 157) - took 2nd in 2011-2012, took 4th in 2012-2013, took 2nd in 2013-2014
Logan Storley (ranked #4 at 174) - took 6th in 2011-2012, took 4th in 2012-2013, took 3rd in 2013-2014
Scott Schiller (ranked #5 at 197) took 5th in 2012-2013, took 3rd in 2013-2014
J Robinson has led Minnesota to three national titles and six runner-up finishes during his 28 years at the helm.
The Terrapins are on a six match losing streak and have lost 13 of their last 14 matches. They have yet to win a conference dual this season and they are getting beaten badly in conference play. In fact, the average score of Maryland's conference duals are 33-6. Maryland is the first and only unranked conference team that Minnesota has wrestled this season.
With an overall record of 5-13 and conference record of 0-7, you might think that Maryland has nothing to wrestle for except for pride. But you would be mistaken. On the line on Sunday afternoon was nothing short of all-time bragging rights between the two schools.
Maryland and Minnesota are 1-1 all-time against each other and Senior Day was the rubber match. Maryland beat the Golden Gophers 17-12 back in 1966, a year when Minnesota went 16-8-1 and tied for 17th at the NCAA Championships with only one All-American. Minnesota returned the favor in 1992 when they beat the Terps 25-13, arguably J Rob's worst year at Minnesota when he went 8-14 and tied for 21st at the NCAA Championships, the only time in 28 years that he failed to crack the top-20 at Minnesota.
The dual started at 149 with senior co-captain Ben Dorsay taking on Jake Short. Short fought off a single leg attempt by Dorsay in the first minute but Short came back off of the restart and shot in on a high crotch. He finished to a double leg and took Dorsay down to take a 2-0 lead. Dorsay escaped with around a minute left in the first period to cut the deficit in half.
Dorsay started the second period on bottom. Short rode Dorsay out for the entire second period. Dorsay took his turn on top for the third period as Short started on bottom. Short quickly escaped and locked up the riding time point. He finished a high single leg takedown to take a 5-1 lead. Short then decided to optional start and cut Dorsay. Dorsay got a takedown to close the gap but had to cut Short because he was still behind. Dorsay couldn't take Short down in time and Short won a 7-4 decision with the riding time point to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead to start the dual.
Dylan Ness is currently ranked number one in the country at 157 and is a three-time All-American including a two-time NCAA Runner-up. After an emotional win against top-15 ranked Mike Kelly on Friday night, it was clear that Lou Mascola was going to have his hands full.
Mascola came out firing against the three-time All-American and what transpired next will have Maryland and Minnesota fans talking for weeks. Mascola shot in on a low-single. Ness lowered his head and tried to defend his leg. When he did that, Mascola locked up an inside cradle. The crowd gasped, knowing and realizing that they could be watching Mascola pin the three-time All-American and number one ranked wrestler in the weight class. That is not even to mention the fact that he is a Ness (the Ness Brothers, Dylan and his older brother Jayson,a four time All-American and national champion for the Golden Dophers, are legends in Minnesota Wrestling.) But back to the match!
Mascola started to work Ness backwards slowly. Ness tried to tip Mascola over repeatedly by bumping his hips up and to the side. He also used his legs to try and tip Mascola over so he could flip the position. Ness is long and lanky and he is an extremely rare wrestler who is comfortable and experienced with fighting from uncomfortable positions, especially positions where he might be close to being put on his back.
Mascola had gotten a five-count (exposing Ness' back to the mat for at least five seconds) so he was going to have a five point lead coming to him because of the takedown and three point near-fall. He then put Ness on his back. A very kind twitter follower of mine sent me this:
It appears that Mascola had Ness pinned in this photo and I spoke to other fans at the event who also claimed to have photos that showed Ness flat on his back. However, to be fair, Ness was not there for very long at all. He wasn't on his back for more than a second or so. I have seen pins called in quicker time than that but the referees did not award the fall.
Ness continued to try and elevate his hips, causing Mascola to start to wobble over. Mascola released the cradle lock and switched immediately to a half-nelson hold, threatening to put Ness back onto his back and pin him again. While Ness' back was still exposed, it was apparent that he was not in as much danger as he was before.
Ness never seemed to be rattled throughout this whole time and he seemed to be comfortable, even in this disadvantageous position. What happened next showcased Dylan Ness' craftiness and guile and hammered home why he is a three-time All-American (including a two-time NCAA Finalist).
Ness continued to keep his hips up and used his leg to elevate Mascola's leg. This helped to tip Mascola over and knock him off to the side. Ness flipped his hips up on top and went from being half-nelsoned to having a half-nelson of his own because he kept a hold of Mascola's head.
Despite nearly getting pinned twice, Dylan Ness pinned Lou Mascola at the 1:54 mark of the first period. The match only lasted for 1:06 but it was action packed and drama filled. It was arguably the scramble of the year in the Big Ten. It was an incredible match to watch and both sets of fans were incredibly loud. Minnesota seized on the momentum from the win and started racking up points.
Top-20 ranked Nick Wanzek took a 3-1 lead to the second period because of a takedown and a one point penalty for T.J. Guidice using an illegal head scissors. Wanzek then reversed Guidice and turned him for two points to take a 7-1 lead. He turned Guidice again but Guidice avoided getting pinned and the match went to the third period.
Wanzek led 12-3 and then picked up a takedown and another two point near-fall. After a Guidice escape, Wanzek picked up another takedown and cradled him to get a three point near-fall and won by technical fall, 22-4.
Logan Storley is a top-5 wrestler and like Ness, he is a three time All-American. Maryland sent out senior Sean O'Malley. Storley took O'Malley down and turned him for three. Another pair of takedowns padded his lead and he used his leg ride to turn O'Malley again. He titled O'Malley for two and took a 14-2 lead with 51 seconds left in the first period.
Storley added another pair of takedowns and pinned O'Malley with four seconds left to go in the first period.
Brett Pfarr was ranked in the top-15 and wrestled Maryland's other co-captain Tony Gardner. Pfarr caught Gardner on his back to take an early four point lead but added two takedowns to take an 8-2 lead.
Pfarr escaped after 25 seconds had elapsed in the third period. He then took Gardner down shortly after to take an 11-2 lead. Another takedown for Pfarr gave him a 13-3 lead and he won a 14-3 major decision courtesy of the riding time point.
Senior Rob Fitzgerald took on Scott Schiller at 197 coming out of intermission. Schiller is another top-5 wrestler for the Golden Gophers and he is a two time All-American as well.
Schiller came out and finished a single leg in the first 30 seconds to take a 2-0 lead. Schiller took a 6-2 lead going into the second period. Fitzgerald was able to turn Schiller for two points but he gave the points right back when Schiller reversed him.
Fitzgerald took injury time and Schiller took bottom on the restart. Schiller escaped and took Fitzgerald down to push his lead to seven. Schiller took bottom to start the third period. He reversed Fitzgerald and locked up a cradle and pinned Fitzgerald with 1:20 left to go in the third period. Minnesota led 30-0 going into heavyweight.
Once again, Spencer Myers had to tangle with a top-15 heavyweight. This time it was Michael Kroells.
Myers couldn't finish on low single against Kroells and it was 0-0 going to the second period. Kroells reversed Myers in only about ten seconds. Myers was able to escape and answered back with a takedown of his own after countering Kroells. Kroells escaped but Myers was able to secure another takedown. Kroells escaped and trailed 5-4 going into the third period.
Myers escaped to start the third period and led 6-4. Kroells took Myers down with 44 seconds left in the third period to tie it up at six apiece. With 17 seconds left on a restart, Kroells was able to hold onto Myers and the match went into overtime.
Myers flipped Kroells and took him down with 18 seconds left in the sudden victory period to put Maryland on the board. It was an incredible bout for Myers in the last home match of his career and in typical Spencer Myers fashion, it was a dramatic finish.
Ethan Lizak took on senior Josh Polacek. Lizak took Polacek down quickly and rode him for almost the entire first period. He also got a three point near-fall to build a 5-0 lead going into the second. Lizak rode Polacek out for the second period and turned him for another three point near-fall.
Lizak reversed Polacek with under 20 seconds to go in the match and shut-out Polacek 11-0 to win by major decision.
Chris Dardanes is the number one ranked wrestler at 133 but didn't make the trip to Columbus to wrestle Ohio State on Friday. Geoffrey Alexander took the win by forfeit to give Maryland six team points. It was 34-9 Minnesota going into the final match of the dual.
Shyheim Brown didn't get the opportunity to wrestle top-five ranked Nick Dardanes. Instead, Minnesota sent out Conrad Rangell for the last match of the dual.
Brown almost had an inside cradle locked up but Rangell showed some incredible shot defense to fight it off and did not give up any points.
It was scoreless going to the second period. Brown was able to escape in 49 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Rangell took down to start the third period. Brown brought him back to the mat and titled him for two points to take a 3-0 lead. Rangell escaped with over a minute remaining to cut the deficit to two. Neither wrestler shot for the duration of the match and Brown won a 3-1 decision.
Mascola's match with Ness could have gone another way but even with the 12 point swing, Maryland would have lost. Minnesota sent in their back-up at 141 and didn't even send out a 133 pounder. Maryland got 9 of their 12 points out of those two matches. Of the seven Maryland seniors who wrestled on Sunday, only Myers emerged victorious. Dorsay was the only one of the six others who lost by decision.
Minnesota dominated Maryland in the matches that they won. In their six bonus point matches, they had three pins, a technical fall and two major decisions. In those six matches alone the Golden Gophers scored 31 points.
Maryland wraps up their regular season next Friday on the road against a top-25 Northwestern team. Is Northwestern beatable? Absolutely. Will it be a very tough task? You bet.
Northwestern has a top-20 wrestler at 133, the defending national champion at 149 pounds, a top-10 wrestler at 165, a top-15 wrestler at 197 and a top-5 heavyweight who is a three time All-American. Northwestern has made a habit of forfeiting weight classes this season in duals but this will be their senior day. Something tells me that if they have a warm body, they will throw it out there.
This Maryland team is much better and healthier than the one that lost to George Mason on November 9th. They are better than the team that lost to Duke by double digits at Madison Square Garden on December 21st. They are better than the team that blew a 15-3 lead to Navy at home on January 11th. They are wrestling better now than they have at almost any point during the season. Maryland won't win the Big Ten Tournament but if they are trying to build confidence going into the postseason, Evanston could be just the place to do it.