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Golden Gophers Chasing the Cowboys

The timing couldn't be any better. Two elite dual teams, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are ready to do battle, in what will determine the #1 seed for the National duals to be wrestled at Penn State on January 20th and 21st. Minnesota the #1 ranked team in the nation will draw from the energy of a capacity crowd of 13,000 Gopher faithful. The Cowboys will draw from the experience of already beating the powerful Iowa Hawkeye team earlier this season. As the dual approaches Head Coach John Smith of the Cowboys and assistant Mark Schwab from Minnesota took time to discuss the preparation and strategy that goes into a dual of this magnitude. As each coach discussed the detail of their lineup, it was obvious that they knew their opponents lineup as well as their own. Both Schwab and Smith have spent considerable time preparing for this dual and it was clear that both coaches want to use a win in this dual to propel them to greater goals at the end of the season. The second half of the season is here and this battle on the mat is taking a lot of the coach's energies. Coach Smith seemed almost relieved that he was preparing for a tougher battle at heavyweight than Minnesota has to offer. Smith was worried that Minnesota would be a prohibitive favorite, expecting to see Garrett Lowney, Olympic Bronze medallist. When Smith learned that Lowney cannot wrestle until the National Duals he seemed more optimistic about his teams chances. Oklahoma State would seem to have an unexpected edge at heavyweight with James Huml to battle Mike Flannagan. Both coaches see this match as important and neither is ready to say that there heavyweight is the underdog. Flannagan will surely be inspired for this big meet and the chance to wrestle in front of a hometown crown. Flannagan was an under-recruited heavyweight but Schwab believes in his toughness and the ability to get a win after spending years as a workout partner for the likes of Brock Lesnar and Garrett Lowney. Both coaches expect momentum to play a pivotal role in the match-up. Minnesota would be happy if the dual started at 125 where they will put out All-American Leroy Vega against Matt Brown. Vega is a fierce attacker and Schwab says that this is a match that Minnesota can score bonus points at. Vega will be ready to wrestle for sure. If the draw of the weight classes would start at 125 Minnesota might be able to put together a streak of matches and momentum. On the other hand, Oklahoma State would probably like it if one of the upper-weights get called on to start the battle. Towards the top at 197, Mark Munoz will be in a position to score the all important bonus points. As a coach, Schwab knows that Munoz may have that chance against Owen Elzen, but don't expect the Minnesota staff to coach Elzen to make the match close and accept a loss. Schwab says, "Wrestling's to tough a sport to be satisfied with a close loss. You don't want to tell a kid in a dual try and keep it close; instead, you'll talk to them about maintaining good position controlling their own tieup. But the last thing you want in a big meet like this is for a kid to have it in the back of his head: just go out there and survive." One match-up that will surely bring the crowd to its' feet is the 184 pound clash between Damion Hahn of Minnesota and Daniel Cormier of Oklahoma State. Hahn is regarded as a potential superstar who first started to gain respect last season at the UNO Open when pushed Cael Sanderson to overtime as a redshirt freshman. To date, that is Sandersons closest call, and ever since the level of expectation for Hahn's supporters has risen. Coach Smith points at this marquee match as one that the Cowboys have to win to defeat Minnesota. Cormier for the Cowboys has a wide open style that includes powerful upper-body attacks and the ability to end the match with a fall. Smith isn't making those kind of promises. He knows of Hahn's abilities and will be happy if Cormier can snatch a win from Hahn. When Schwab discussed this match he put equal importance to it, but he doesn't think Hahn will back down. "Hahn is the type of kid that was beating NCAA All-Americans while he was still in high school; he knows he can wrestle at this level." According to Schwab though, Hahn has had to make some adjustments. "I think he sees that you don't get easy matches in college wrestling. He's had to concentrate on better bottom technique, if you don't improve from bottom in college there are guys who can ride you the whole match." One advantage that the Cowboys may have in the upper-weights comes with the addition of Mark Cody as the new top assistant. Cody has a wealth of experience coaching some of the great upper-weights from the University of Nebraska including, current National Champion Brad Vering as well as former heavyweight National Champion Tolly Thompson. Smith believes that Cody is they type of guy who can really help with his program. Cody, who was an assistant at Nebraska until Tim Neumann resigned last spring, has a great relationship with the Cowboy wrestlers. Smith says, "he spends a great deal of time coaching kids to be prepared mentally. He has really helped in that area." In the middle of the lineup is the pivotal match of the dual. Last year Jared Lawrence of Minnesota and Reggie Wright of Oklahoma State split during the year, with Wright garnering the last victory in by a point in the NCAA tournament. The match was a high scoring affair, at breath-taking pace, which resulted in 25 points being scored between the two. Coach Smith still feels fortunate with that victory. "I'm still not sure how we came away with that win. I really feel that Lawrence out wrestled us two out of three periods. We can't have another match like that and expect to win it." Coach Schwab places as much important to the 149-pound bout as Smith does. "They had split during the season with Wright getting the win at the NCAAs, but we feel Jared Lawrence is in a position to win for us. He has worked hard at improving his defense. He knows that he gave up too many points last year. We want to make Wright earn his takedowns. If Jared can do that, then he can get the win." Both Schwab and Smith respect the tradition of the opposing program. Schwab notes that Oklahoma State is well-coached and very mat aware. "They know how to use the edge of the mat to their advantage. We've worked on wrestling against this tactic. To come out with a win against a crafty team like Oklahoma State we have to be prepared to wrestle a blue-collar style and be physical." Smith knows that Minnesota will come after the Cowboys. "If we lay back and wait, there are matches that could get away from us. We can't wait for our openings, we have to setup our shots and take them. If we are scoring our takedowns, we will do well." Right now Oklahoma State and Minnesota seem to be heading on the same track. Both teams have the leaders and wrestlers that can carry them to a national title. Oklahoma State has made even more progress then Smith expected this early in the year. Minnesota seems determined to gain the mantle of a #1 ranking and control the #1 seed for the National duals. After Sunday, one coaching staff will undoubtedly be reevaluating their team, but at this time both coaches like their chances to come out with a win. View Mark Munoz Leg Counter
View Leroy Vega Bodylock
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