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Safratowich caps off career in style

Tyler Safratowich, top, capped off his senior season as a member of the University of Minnesota wrestling team with a 32-15 record and All-American honors. (University of Minnesota photo)

Tyler Safratowich was determined to end his senior season as a member of the University of Minnesota wrestling team in style.

Earning his first All-American honors in his second and final trip to the NCAA Division I Championships was the perfect way for Safratowich to end his collegiate wrestling career.

"Being an All-American was a goal of mine since Day 1," said Safratowich, who finished eighth at 157 pounds at the NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis on March 21. "College started off with the goal of being a four-time All-American. Finally achieving it was a great feeling."

The 2004 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School had a solid season as the Gophers' leader.

Safratowich opened his senior season by sharing the 157-pound title with teammate Dustin Schlatter at the Bison Open in Fargo on Nov. 15. Safratowich pinned Jake Orth of Rochester Community & Technical College in 1:03 and posted a pair of technical fall wins over a pair of North Dakota State University wrestlers. Safratowich defeated Tyler Wells 22-6 and Vincent Salminen 25-7 to reach the finals.

At the Kaufman Brand Open in Omaha, Neb. on Nov. 22, Safratowich finished fifth. Safratowich opened with an 8-2 decision over Brock Smith of Wyoming and a 13-4 major decision over Salminen. Safratowich then dropped a 24-10 major decision to Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs, who went on to win the tournament title. Safratowich then pinned Levi Price of Northwestern College in 2:23 and defeated Keenan McCurdy of Nebraska-Kearney 11-5 before dropping a 6-4 decision to Joseph Knox of Chattanooga. Safratowich pinned Danny Grater of Fort Hays State in 4:38 in the fifth-place match.

The Gophers, who were ranked No. 11 in the nation at the start of the season, opened their dual meet schedule by defeating Portland State 54-0, Northern Colorado 42-4 and NDSU 35-6 at the Northern Quad in Rochester on Nov. 29. Safratowich defeated Portland State's Alex Bubb 10-2, Northern Colorado's Tanner Weiks 20-4 and NDSU's Salminen 19-5.

Minnesota, which moved up to the No. 8 ranking in the nation, finished third at the Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 5-6. Safratowich split four matches, pinning San Francisco State's Markham Bertron in 1:58 and Virginia Tech's Jesse Dong in 6:26 and dropping matches to Burroughs (5-2) and Penn's Matt Dragon (11-10). Safratowich was rated No. 7, Dong was rated No. 10, Burroughs was rated No. 2 and Dragon was rated No. 9 in the country entering this tournament.

Burroughs defeated Safrato-wich 9-4 as No. 3 Nebraska defeated No. 7 Minnesota 21-18 in a dual meet on Dec. 21. Safrato-wich was rated No. 19 before that match.

The Gophers lost to another ranked team on Jan. 1 as No. 13 Oklahoma State posted a 23-13 win over No. 7 Minnesota. Safratowich, who was rated No. 14, lost to unranked Neil Erisman 6-4 to open the match.

Safratowich went 2-1 as the U of M defeated Army 26-15, Air Force 41-3 and Harvard 28-20 a the Lone Star Duals in Dallas on Jan. 3. Safratowich dominated Army's Rudy Chelednik 14-3 and Air Force's Joe Stafford 18-1 before dropping a 3-2 decision to No. 3 J.P. O'Connor of Harvard.

At the National Duals Jan. 10-11 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Safrato-wich had a 4-1 record as the Gophers finished sixth. U of M, which entered the tournament ranked No. 11 in the nation, defeated Buffalo 27-13, lost to No. 1 Iowa 27-7, defeated No. 9 Wisconsin 22-15, defeated No. 14 Penn State 21-18 and lost to No. 6 Ohio State 25-12. Safratowich, who was rated No. 16, pinned Buffalo's John-Martin Cannon in 4:56, defeated Iowa's Matt Ballweg 11-3, defeated Wisconsin's Ben Jordan 12-4, lost to Penn State's Dan Vallimont 6-5 and defeated Ohio State's Jason Johnstone 6-4. Vallimont was rated No. 8 and Johnstone was ranked No. 15.

Minnesota moved up to the No. 9 ranking and defeated Arizona State 26-12 on Jan. 23 aided by Safratowich's pin at the 4:39 mark over Michael Swigert.

Despite Safratowich's 7-6 loss to Anthony Jones, the Gophers defeated Michigan State 30-6 in the Big Ten Conference opener on Jan. 25.

Safratowich, who fell to the No. 18 ranking, defeated Shane Everett 23-8 as the No. 10 ranked Gophers defeated No. 16 Penn State 20-19 on Jan. 30.

An 8-5 win by Safratowich over Sean Nemec helped the Gophers defeat No. 5 Ohio State 18-16 on Feb. 1.

In a 17-16 loss to No. 18 Michigan on Feb. 6, Safratowich posted a 7-6 win over Aaron Hynes. Safratowich entered that meet rated No. 17 in the nation while the Gophers were ranked No. 8.

The Gophers followed with an 18-16 win over No. 16 Northwestern on Feb. 8 as Safratowich dropped a 10-3 decision to No. 14 Jason Welch.

A 7-5 win by Safratowich over Jordan wasn't enough as the No. 11-ranked Gophers fell to No. 18 Wisconsin 19-15 on Feb. 13.

In a 25-9 loss to No. 1 Iowa on Feb. 15, Safratowich's 8-2 win over Ballweg provided one of the few highlights for the Gophers.

No. 8 Cyler Sanderson defeated No. 17 Safratowich 10-6 as No. 4 Iowa State defeated No. 12 Minnesota 29-6 on Feb. 20.

Minnesota closed out the regular season with a 22-13 win over No. 18 Indiana on Feb. 22. Safratowich defeated No. 13 Kurt Kinser 5-1 as the Gophers finished with a 5-3 record in the conference and 15-8 overall mark.

The Gophers then finished fifth in the Big Ten Conference tournament March 7-8 at Penn State with 86 points. Safratowich was Minnesota's top finisher by placing third at 157 to qualify for the NCAA Division I Championships.

Safratowich entered the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed and opened by pinning Purdue's Colton Salazar in 5:33. After dropping an 8-5 decision to No. 1 Michael Poeta of Illinois, Safratowich defeated No. 6 Anthony Jones of Michigan State and Salazar 7-2 to finish third. Safratowich was also named to the Academic All-Big Ten Conference team.

Safratowich entered the NCAA Championships March 19-21 in St. Louis rated No. 17 at 157 pounds. Safratowich defeated No. 10 Scott Winston of Rutgers 5-2 and No. 7 Matt Moley of Bloomsburgh 7-4 to advance to the quarterfinals.

A 10-5 loss to No. 2 Poeta dropped Safratowich into the wrestlebacks. Safratowich guaranteed himself All-American honors with a 6-4 decision over No. 8 Adam Hall of Boise State. Safratowich ended up finishing eighth with a 12-5 loss to No. 6 Michael Chandler of Missouri and a 4-2 overtime loss to No. 11 Chase Pemi of Cal Poly.

"My senior season was very up and down, but mostly I knew I just needed to get on a good streak heading into the end of the year," said Safratowich. "Some things during the year did not go as planned and I lost matches that I probably should not have. I tried to keep it all in perspective by focusing on the end of the year. The biggest highlight of the year for me was watching a young and inexperienced team develop and battle. Not everything went our way, but we battled hard and had a lot of fun."

After being a three-time state champion and setting the school record for career wins at Park Rapids with 146, Safratowich followed with a stellar collegiate career at Minnesota.

Safratowich had a 16-9 record with four pins and five major decisions at 141 as a freshman and followed with a 32-14 record with seven pins and eight major decisions at 157 and 165 as a sophomore. Safratowich, who was 20-10 at 157 and 12-4 at 165, finished third at the conference tournament at 165 and went 2-2 at the NCAA Championships to help the Gophers claim the national title.

As a junior, Safratowich compiled a 28-10 record with four pins and eight major decisions at 165. Safratowich was ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation at 165, but finished the season eighth at the conference tournament to miss an invitation to the national tournament.

His 32-15 record this season raised Safratowich's career record to 108-48. The 108 wins put Safratowich in the No. 26 spot all-time on the U of M victories list. Safratowich (who had eight pins, five major decisions and five technical falls this season) went 37-18 in dual meets and 17-6 against conference opponents during his career. Safratowich scored 137 points for the Gophers.

"My career at the U was full of ups and downs. I had a lot of big wins and quite a few losses that could have gone the other way. To sum up my career, I would say a young kid came into college as a 130-pound wrestler and left it as a member of the 2007 national championship team and a 2009 All-American at 157 pounds," said Safratowich. "There was a lot of growing - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - that went on in that time period. To cap my senior season with an All-American honor was nothing short of amazing. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world."

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