EAST LANSING, Mich. -- In the final home dual of his coaching career, Michigan State wrestling head coach Tom Minkel walked off the platform at Jenison Field House with a win as the Spartans defeated Northwestern, 19-15, Sunday afternoon.
For the second consecutive home match, the dual wasn't decided until the last bout, but the Spartans prevailed this time on Dimitrus Renfroe's 5-3 decision at heavyweight over Conan Jennings. MSU (1-12, 1-7 Big Ten) won the final three matches and six overall against the Wildcats (1-9, 0-5) to rally from a 12-3 deficit.
"I thought I might be sad about it, but really it was a lot of fun today," said Minkel, who is retiring following his 25th season at MSU in 2015-16. "You kind of enjoy it, and understand that it was the last go-round of this kind, but also just seeing our kids today, I knew they were highly motivated. I knew they really wanted to win this one. They found a way to get it done, and that's enormously satisfying."
With MSU clinging to a 16-15 lead, Renfroe won his first career dual match to seal the win for the Spartans. Renfroe came out strong in the first period with a takedown at the 1:13 mark, and quickly added two back points to go up, 4-0. He racked up more riding time in the second before Jennings escaped to make it 4-1. In the third, Renfroe was penalized for stalling twice, including his second infraction with just 24 seconds remaining, but he hung on and added a riding time point (1:06) to earn the 5-3 decision.
"I'm just hoping I can survive to the end of the dual," laughed Minkel afterward about what he was feeling during the heavyweight match. "There was so much at stake for these kids and for our team, and how much they've worked. I know they didn't want this to get away from us. So it was a pretty emotional moment. But really, just the last minute, I was saying, 'don't get turned, don't get called for stalling…, just try to hang in there,' and he found a way to get it done. I'm enormously proud of the program and the kids. It was a fun day."
MSU trailed 15-10 with three matches to go - but won all three to complete the comeback win. At 184, Shwan Shadaia got things going with a 3-2 decision over Regis Durbin, followed by Jacob Cooper's last-second reversal at 197 pounds to put MSU on top, 16-15.
Cooper, who recorded two takedowns in the first, led most of the match before giving up a takedown to Northwestern's Jacob Berkowitz with one minute left in the third that tied it at 5. With the clock winding down and the match appeared to be heading into sudden victory, Cooper worked his position and flipped Berkowitz at the edge of the circle for the reversal right before the buzzer sounded. The call was initially challenged by Northwestern but upheld by video review. It marked Cooper's fifth straight Big Ten dual victory.
Mitch Rogaliner began the dual with a 6-2 overtime victory over Garrison White at 125 pounds. With time winding down in the first overtime, Rogaliner tallied four near-fall points before the horn sounded to come away with the 6-2 decision.
Northwestern won the next four matches to take a 12-3 lead, but senior Joe Johnson, wrestling for the last time at Jenison Field House on Senior Day, changed the momentum of the dual with a dominating 13-2 major decision at 157 pounds over Anthony Petrone right before intermission. Johnson was aggressive right from the start and built a 6-0 lead after the first with a takedown and four near-fall points, and cruised to the nine-point win in which he also accumulated 3:37 of riding time.
"It was definitely a hard time coming up to it (Senior Day), just knowing all of the injuries that I've been going through, hoping that I would even be cleared to wrestle," said Johnson. "So I knew it was going to be a little emotional. I had a lot of family and friends here supporting me, which is really cool; it gave me an extra adrenaline rush, a little boost. I just had to go out and lay it all out there, and I had a lot of fun."
Dean Vettese was also victorious for the Spartans at 165 pounds against Luke Norland. Vettese quickly went up 10-1 in the first period and managed to hold off Norland in the second and third periods to earn the 11-8 decision.
Prior to the match, the program recognized managers Chelsea Austin and Marissa Hur and seniors Brandon Fifield, Terry Turner, Roger Wildmo and Johnson as part of MSU's Senior Day festivities.
"There's nothing like it," summed up Minkel as he talked about all of his former wrestlers that came out to support him in his last home dual. "My first (home) dual here was November of '91. I've heard from countless guys who have called and have written. It means a lot to me to have been a part of their lives and a part of their wrestling experience."
The Spartans return to action Friday, Feb. 12 at Lock Haven.
125: Mitch Rogaliner (MSU) dec. Garrison White (NU), 6-2 (OT). MSU, 3-0
133: Dominick Malone (NU) major dec. Garth Yenter (MSU), 10-0 (RT 2:11). NU, 4-3
141: Jameson Oster (NU) dec. Javier Gasca (MSU), 8-6. NU, 7-3
149: No. 4 Jason Tsirtsis (NU) tech. fall Kaelan Richards (MSU), 19-4 (5:34). NU, 12-3
157: Joe Johnson (MSU) major dec. Anthony Petrone (NU), 13-2 (RT 3:37). NU, 12-7
165: Dean Vettese (MSU) dec. Luke Norland (NU), 11-8. NU, 12-10
174: Mitch Sliga (NU) dec. Shane Shadaia (MSU), 9-5 (RT 2:43). NU, 15-10
184: Shwan Shadaia (MSU) dec. Regis Durbin (NU), 3-2. NU, 15-13
197: Jacob Cooper (MSU) dec. Jacob Berkowitz (NU), 7-5. MSU, 16-15
HWT: Dimitrus Renfroe (MSU) dec. Conan Jennings (NU), 5-3. MSU, 19-15