Wrestling Earns Win In Minkel’s Final Home Meet

The MSU Wrestling team sent head coach Tom Minkel out in style Sunday afternoon with a dramatic 19-15 win over Northwestern. The Spartans finally got a notch in the win column after starting 0-12 on the year, but the hard-earned win went out to the coach.

Minkel, who is in his 25th year of coaching for the Spartans, is retiring after the season and has now coached in his final home meet of his career.

When asked how he felt abouy ending his career on this high note, he simply put: “It feels good.”

“This is my last dual-meet here at Michigan State,” Minkel said after the match. “For them to wrestle as well as they did and find a way to win means a great deal to me. I know how much they wanted to win today, and it was important for them to win this dual-meet for me.”

Minkel had an incredible run at Michigan State, retiring as the second longest tenured coach in program history. He also has the second most wins in school history with 172 (including this win Sunday).

The meet started off great with sophomore Mitch Rogaliner defeating Garrison White in dramatic fashion, making a huge four-point near-fall to take a 3-0 lead.

Things went downhill from there, though, starting with sophomore Javier Gasca losing 8-6 to Wildcat senior Jameson Oster. Gasca had his five-match Big Ten win streak snapped, but still leads the team in wins with 16, boasting a stellar 16-5 record.

Junior Kaelan Richards did what he could against Wildcat junior Jason Tsirtsis, but the No. 4 ranked stud took a 19-4 major decision win to give Northwestern a huge 12-3 lead after the fourth round.

With intermission approaching and the team in desperate need of a win, there was no better Spartan to call on than senior Joe Johnson. Johnson earned four team points in the huge 13-2 win, cutting the deficit to 12-7 and giving the Spartans the momentum going into the break.

“This was one of the best matches I’ve had because I felt a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “This match really meant a lot because my whole family was here to support me and I knew it was my last home match. There was a lot of pressure, but it was fun ending my last home dual-meet with a win”

This was a special moment at Jenison Fieldhouse as there was nothing but support for him. Johnson, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA and worked hard his entire career to be the 157 weight-class starter this year.

Johnson’s win was huge for the Spartans, as they kept this wave going and won four of the five second-half matches. Sophomore Dean Vettese started it off with a decision win in the sixth round to cut the deficit to 12-10 NU.

Freshman Shane Shadaia lost a tough battle to set them back three points and put them behind 15-10, but his freshman brother Shwan Shadaia came back and defeated Wildcat freshman Regis Durbin by a score of 3-2, turning the overall score to 15-13 NU.

With an opportunity to take the lead for the first time since the first round, MSU freshman Jacob Cooper faced off against junior Jacob Berkowitz in a must win match for the Spartans. This one went back and forth, and looked to go into sudden-death overtime until Cooper shocked the Jenison with a huge 2-point reversal to take the 7-5 lead as the third round expired. The call was challenged, but confirmed, and it gave the Spartans a huge 16-15 lead going into the final round.

The winner-take-all finale put the entire crowd in a nervous wreck, as junior Dimitrus Renfroe stepped in for the heavyweight battle against freshman Conan Jennings. Renfroe grabbed Jennings’ leg in the first rotation and ripped him down, earning the four-point near-fall and taking control of the match. Jennings could not recover and the narrow 4-3 decision gave the Spartans a 19-15 win.

Coach Minkel will be truly missed from Spartan Wrestling. He has made an incredible impact on numerous lives, including in a special relationship with Johnson.

“Coach Minkel has really been a mentor for me throughout college,” Johnson said. “He’s been really helpful in showing me how to take what I learn in the wrestling room and apply it to the rest of my life, and to use it as an individual and not just as an athlete.”

Minkel talked a little bit about his experience with coaching and what about the job means the most to him.

“For some people it’s the national championship or something like a big win, but for me probably the most important thing to me is the relationship I have with these young men. The day-to-day work with the kids is just enormously satisfying. To know that I have had an impact on their life and helped them navigate their years from ages 18 to 23, it’s enormously satisfying.”

Before the match, Minkel was honored in his last home meet with a brief ceremony. Also, Senior Day was recognized and the MSU senior class of Brandon Fifield, Joe Johnson, Terry Turner, and Roger Wildmo was honored.

The Spartans return to action on Feb. 12 at Lock Haven, the first of three away matches to end the regular season.