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Big Ten Championships Preview



The Big Ten is arguably the best wrestling conference in the country, and this year's talent is being showcased right here at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena. The last time Northwestern hosted the conference championship was 1990, when the Wildcats tied Indiana for third place and went on to finish fourth nationally. Northwestern's current Assistant Director of Athletic Development, Jack Griffin, won the 118-pound title that year and went on to win the NCAA title, as well. As a sign of the conference's balance, last year's Big Ten Tournament saw individuals from six different schools win titles in the 10 weight classes. Iowa led the way with four titles, while Minnesota went home with two. Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin each had one individual titleist. Iowa took home the team title, scoring just eight points more than 1999 conference champion Minnesota. It was the closest team race since 1993, when Iowa defeated Penn State 128-123.50. Minnesota comes into the championships as the top-rated team in the country, but a bevy of Big Ten competitors are right on their heels. In all, five Big Ten teams grace the InterMat national Top 10, and 10 of the conference's 11 teams are in the Top 25. Each weight class is stacked with competition from top to bottom, and this year's championship figures to be one of the best. 125 Pounds - The Big Ten's 125-pound weight class has nine of the top 20 rated wrestlers in the country and will be one of the most exciting weight classes to watch. Iowa's Jody Strittmatter will try to defend his 2000 title - he boasts the highest ranking at No. 2 and has a 23-1 record. Just a reversal behind him is Minnesota's LeRoy Vega, who finished third in both 1999 and 2000 and brings a 24-5 record into this year's championships. Also breaking the top 10 at No. 9 is Michigan's Arron Grant, who ended the 2000 championship in fifth. Plenty of wrestlers rank in the second half of the top 20, including Purdue's Jason Silverstein (fifth at the 2000 championships), Michigan State's Chris Williams and Indiana's Greg Schaefer. 133 Pounds - Six Big Ten wrestlers are ranked in the national Top 10, making this weight class even from top to bottom. The favorite is Iowa's Eric Juergens, who will be defending his 2000 championship. He'll try to fend off Michigan State's Pat McNamara and Minnesota's Brett Lawrence. McNamara won the title in 1999 and was runner-up a year ago, while Lawrence finished sixth in 2000. Michigan's Foley Dowd, Purdue's Evan Robinson (4th in 2000) and Wisconsin's Kevin Black are all in the top 10, as well, and should not be overlooked. 141 Pounds - The 141-pound weight class has as much parity from top to bottom as any weight class in the championships. Two-time Big Ten champion Doug Schwab of Iowa has a 25-0 overall record and is looking to three-peat, but he'll have to contend with seven other wrestlers ranked in the national Top 20 to accomplish that feat. His main competition looks to be Minnesota's Chad Erikson, who has a 21-5 overall record. Ohio State's Robert Sessley will make an impact with his No. 11 ranking and 28-8 record. Others contending for the title will be Illinois' Mike Castillo (#13), Michigan State's Mike Castillo (#14), Wisconsin's Grant Hoerr (#15), Michigan's Clark Forward (#16) and Penn State's Nate Parker (#18). 149 Pounds - The race for the 149-pound conference crown could be one of the most wide open in the tournament. 2000 champion Adam Tirapelle from Illinois, currently ranked second, will be the man to beat as he comes to Evanston with a 20-1 record. 2000 runner-up and third-ranked Jared Lawrence (25-4) of Minnesota will likely be Tirapelle's main competition, but don't count out Iowa's Mike Zadick (16-4) or Michigan's Mike Kulczycki (30-9). Both finished in the top five at last year's championships, with Kulczycki finishing third. Michigan State's Karl Nadolsky (17-6) plans on making some waves and improving on last year's fourth-place finish. 157 Pounds - T.J. Williams, the favorite from Iowa, brings a 19-0 record into the weekend as well as the No. 1 national ranking. The defending Big Ten and NCAA champion has been defeated just once in his Iowa career, boasting an 88-1 record including 21 straight dating back to last years NCAA's. Minnesota's Luke Becker will be gunning to take down Williams, as he enters Welsh-Ryan with a 25-5 record. Michigan State's Gray Maynard holds the No. 11 ranking and Illinois' Griff Powell is ranked 17th. Powell finished seventh at last year's meet, while Maynard boasts a 16-1 record. 165 Pounds - Don Pritzlaff, the top wrestler from Wisconsin, heads into the Big Ten Championships with the No. 1 national ranking. Pritzlaff defeated a pair of Gophers to win back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1999 and 2000. He defeated Josh Holiday in 1999 and Brad Pike in 2000. Pike is back for another run, bringing with him the No. 7 ranking and a 27-4 record. Illinois junior Matt Lackey needs to be thrown in the mix, as he comes to Big Tens with a 21-6 record and a No. 6 ranking. Indiana's Kevin Stanley, Michigan's Charles Martelli and Iowa's Ben Shirk rank 9-10-11, respectively. 174 Pounds - The race for the 174-pound conference crown could be one of the most wide open weight classes at the tournament. Second-ranked Otto Olson from Michigan returns with a 27-2 record after sitting out last year's tournament with torn ligaments in his knee. He finished third in 1999 and will have to fight off Gabe McMahan of Iowa. McMahan is ranked fifth in the country and was last year's runner-up. Minnesota's Jacob Volman (25-9), Purdue's Ryan Lange (25-6) and Illinois' Ben King (13-5) should also have a say in who stands atop the podium at 174. 184 Pounds - Illinois' Nate Patrick is the favorite, as he brings a 25-2 record and the No. 2 national ranking into the conference meet. The senior finished second to Minnesota's Brandon Eggum by medical default a year ago. Michigan's Andy Hrovat, who finished third in 2000, is ranked sixth in the country and will make a run at his first conference title, while Indiana's Victor Sveda (27-5 record) looks to make his mark in the conference record book. But not if fourth-ranked Damion Hahn of Minnesota can help it. Hahn brings a 24-4 record to the table. 197 Pounds - The 197-pound weight class has six wrestlers ranked in the Top 20, led by Minnesota's Owen Elzen at No. 7. He has a 19-1 overall record and finished fifth at the 2000 Big Tens. Just a reversal behind him is ninth-ranked Nick Preston from Ohio State. Preston lost an 8-3 decision to Michigan State's Nick Muzashvilli at last year's championships and brings a 25-5 record to Welsh-Ryan Arena. Michigan's Joe DeGain (21-10) and Michigan State's Nik Fekete (15-4) are 11th and 12th, respectively, while Illinois' Pat Quirk is ranked 13th. Quirk dropped a 3-2 decision to Elzen to finish sixth at the 2000 championships. Finally, don't count out Indiana's Ty Matthews, who comes to Evanston with the No. 19 ranking and a 16-6 record. Heavyweight - If the favorites advance, this could be the best matchup of the 2001 Big Ten Championships - the top three ranked wrestlers in the nation hail from the Big Ten, and two of them are freshmen. At No. 1, freshman Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State has a 33-2 record. However, he will have a tough time holding off Minnesota freshman Garrett Lowney, who is 12-0 and ranked second. Lowney was a bronze medal winner in the 213-pound Greco-Roman division at the 2000 Olympics. Rounding out the top three is Matt Brink from Michigan, who is 27-4 and finished fifth at these championships a year ago. With Illinois' John Lockhart ranked sixth, Northwestern's Josh Saul ranked 17th, and Purdue's Jacob Vercelli ranked 19th, this could turn into the most competitive division in the tournament. In all, 64 nationally-ranked wrestlers will be taking to the mat at the 2001 Big Ten Wrestling Championships. Every weight class is different and has a character of its own. Be sure to pay attention, as some of the weight classes bear personal grudge matches that have built up over the years. This year's tournament figures to be
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