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Division I athletes excelled in 2009

Janessa Wolff1 / 2
Park Rapids' Tyler Safratowich (top) capped off his career as a member of the University of Minnesota wrestling team by placing eighth at 157 pounds at the NCAA Division I Championships to earn All-American honors.2 / 2

Safratowich caps off career at U of M as an All-American

Tyler Safratowich had two main goals when he decided to wrestle at the University of Minnesota.

The first was to help the Gophers win a national title.

Safratowich fulfilled that goal in 2007 by going 2-2 in four tournament matches at 167 pounds as the U of M won the national title.

The second goal was to be an individual All-American.

The 2004 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School fulfilled that goal in his final opportunity last March by placing eighth at 157 pounds at the 2009 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at St. Louis.

"Being an All-American was a goal of mine since Day 1," said Safratowich. "College started off with the goal of being a four-time All-American. Finally achieving it was a great feeling."

Safratowich entered his second NCAA tournament ranked No. 17 in the nation with a 29-12 record. Safratowich qualified for nationals by placing third at the Big Ten Conference tournament.

In the first round, the U of M senior defeated No. 10-ranked Scott Winston of Rutgers 5-2. Winston opened the first period with a takedown before Safratowich countered with an escape. Safratowich took a 4-2 lead in the second period with an escape and takedown before sealing the win with a point for riding time in the third period.

Safratowich advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-4 win over No. 9-ranked Matt Moley of Bloomsburg in the second round. Safratowich opened with a takedown before Moley countered with an escape to end the first period. Moley tied the match with an escape early in the second period, but Safratowich took control with a takedown and nearfall for a 7-2 advantage. Moley had a takedown in the third period to end the scoring.

The quarterfinals pitted Safratowich against No. 3-ranked Michael Poeta of Illinois. Poeta used a pair of takedowns in the first period to build a 4-1 lead. Safratowich had a takedown in the second period, but two escapes by Poeta provided a 6-3 lead. Safratowich opened the third period with an escape, but two more takedowns by Poeta led to a 10-5 victory. That loss ended Safratowich's quest to be a national champion.

During the wrestlebacks, Safratowich guaranteed himself All-American honors with a 6-4 victory over No. 8-ranked Adam Hall of Boise State. Safratowich opened with a takedown in the first period and used an escape early in the second period to build a 3-0 lead. Hall followed with a takedown, but an escape by Safratowich made it 4-2. An escape and a stalling point enabled Hall to tie the match at 4-4 in the third period, but Safratowich recorded a takedown as time expired to advance.

Safratowich was dropped into the seventh-place match with a 13-5 loss to No. 6-ranked Michael Chandler of Missouri. Chandler opened the first period with a takedown and nearfall. After a reversal by Safratowich, Chandler closed the period with an escape and takedown for an 8-2 advantage. An escape by Safratowich provided the only scoring in the second period. Safratowich had a takedown early in the third period to close the gap to 9-5, but an escape and takedown by Chandler sealed the win. Chandler also received a point for riding time.

In the seventh-place match, Safratowich was defeated by Cal Poly's Chase Pemi 4-2 in overtime. After a scoreless first period, an escape gave Safratowich a 1-0 lead. Pemi opened the third period with a reversal to take the lead, but Safratowich escaped to tie the match. Pemi's takedown in overtime gave the nation's No. 11-rated wrestler seventh place.

Top-ranked Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska capped off an undefeated season by defeating Poeta 5-1 in the championship match. No. 3-ranked Jordan Leen of Cornell defeated No. 4-rated Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro 4-0 for third place while Chandler edged Moley 2-1 for fifth place.

Safratowich ended his senior season with a 32-15 record to raise his career mark to 108-48. Safratowich ranks 26th all-time on the U of M career wins list. At Park Rapids, Safratowich was a three-time state champion and still holds the school record for wins at 146.

The Gophers tied for 14th place as a team with 35 points as Jayson Ness placed third at 133 and Zach Sanders finished sixth at 125. Iowa won the national title with 97.5 points.

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," 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."

B>Wolff starts six games at center for Nittany Lions

Even though the team didn't meet its goals, Janessa Wolff was pleased with her play during her sophomore season as a member of the Penn State University women's basketball team.

Wolff, a 6-foot-3 center who graduated from Park Rapids Area High School in 2007, was fifth on the team in scoring at 6.8 points per game and was second in rebounding at 5.6 per game in 28 appearances, including six as a starter. The Nittany Lions finished with a 6-12 record in Big Ten Conference games and went 11-18 overall.

"The season didn't turn out the way I thought it would or anybody on the team thought it would," said Wolff, who averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds a game as a freshman. "Individually I felt like I had a pretty steady season. I think that's what a year of experience has done for me. I have been more of a consistent player, especially on defense."

PSU went 5-6 during the nonconference schedule, losing to five ranked teams. Wolff's best game was in a 76-61 victory over Coppin State where she had her only double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four blocked shots. Wolff also scored a team-high 17 points in a 67-66 loss to Dayton.

"We played five ranked teams in nonconference games and even though we didn't win any of them, we played them very tight," said Wolff. "One highlight of the season was playing UConn at Madison Square Garden. We played them very well and it was an experience I'll never forget."

The Nittany Lions then went 6-12 in the conference to finish in eighth place.

Wolff hit two jump shots and had a steal down the stretch to lift PSU to a 54-51 win over Illinois. Wolff finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in that victory. Wolff had 11 rebounds in a loss to Iowa, 11 points in a loss to Minnesota and 15 points in a win over Illinois.

"The conference season didn't go quite as we expected. We ended up losing a lot of close games that could have changed our ranking a lot in the tournament," said Wolff. "There were a couple of low points during the season. All the losses within a couple points were probably the hardest. Both losses to Iowa were very tough. The first one, losing in three overtimes, was a heartbreaker. Then the second time we played them we lost a 20-point lead. It was basically all the close losses that were the hardest."

For the season, Wolff made 72 of 156 field goals (46.2 percent) and 45 of 70 free throws (64.3 percent). In 28 games, Wolff had 190 points, 158 rebounds, 16 assists and 29 steals while leading the team with 33 blocks.

As a freshman, Wolff made 71 of 132 field goals (53.8 percent) and 49 of 67 free throws (73.1 percent) while tallying 191 points, 140 rebounds, 19 blocks, 12 assists and 12 steals in 31 games. Penn State went 4-14 in conference play and 13-18 overall during Wolff's freshman season.

"With another year under my belt, I hope to be more consistent on offense as well as keep up my performance on defense," said Wolff. "Next season is going to be great. We have a very good recruiting class coming in and it will also be another year with the coaching staff. We have a lot of work to do in the off-season and summer, but it is very do-able. We are a very talented team and once we put all the pieces together, we are going to be a team nobody wants to play."

So far this season, Wolff is averaging 4.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17 minutes per game in helping the Nittany Lions open with a 9-3 record.