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Putting the 'gold' in Golden Gopher; Brent Eidenschink knows a little about overcoming adversity

Brent Eidenschink's introduction to the University of Minnesota wrestling team was quite harsh, but not as challenging as overcoming torn ligaments and snapped bones while being a Golden Gopher grappler.

As a 2006 U of M recruit, Eidenschink was put through the rigors that all freshman wrestlers are put through, on a team that has become a perennial NCAA National Championship contender year in and year out.

As with most freshman recruits, Eidenschink was leaving Detroit Lakes as one of its best wrestlers in Laker history. But being the best on their high school team doesn't matter when they enter the Gopher wrestling practice room, as Eidenschink found out.

"That first month was so tough," Eidenschink recalled of his early experience as a Golden Gopher. "I was just pounded on. I was just starting to wonder after those first two weeks if I even belonged there."

But that is the tactic put on incoming freshmen, as Eidenschink had to go up against the likes of two-time heavyweight National Champion Cole Conrad and Roger Kish.

Keeping the ego in check after starring on the high school level is only the first step in a long progression of wrestling at one of the top Division I programs in the nation.

For Eidenschink, surviving the rigors of being a freshman wasn't as difficult as his overcoming a variety of injuries in the past two seasons.

"I've heard I have the worst luck as far as injuries go," Eidenschink laughed.

But in a situation where many young athletes would throw in the towel, after two untimely injuries, Eidenschink was able to persevere through them -- and get rewarded for his stubborn reluctance to quit.

A multitude of injuries the last two seasons didn't deter the determined Eidenschink from capping 2007-08 with some major momentum for this upcoming year -- in the form of two gold medals in the Pan Am Junior Championships, from winning each of the Greco-Roman and Freestyle banners in Ecuador this past June.

It was a banner finish to a frustrating year for Eidenschink, who is seeing some good things coming his way -- barring anymore injuries.

Trials and tribulations

end with gold

After realizing that, yes, he in fact belonged on the Gopher team, Eidenschink set out to build on his skills and a hopeful spot on the squad, despite the original plan of redshirting his freshman year.

After wrestling in a couple of opens, Robinson and his coaching staff offered Eidenschink the opportunity to earn a starting spot at 197 pounds.

"Coming into the 197 weight was a bit more natural for me, even though I wrestled at 215 (in high school)," Eidenschink said. "So in January I wrestled off against a junior college transfer, who was a national champion the year before, for the starting spot on the team.

"I won 14-2."

Eidenschink was baptized by fire, with his first competition being the National Duels Championships in Iowa.

Seven of his eight matches in the tournament were against top 13, nationally ranked wrestlers. Although he gained just one win, he more importantly didn't give up one bonus point throughout all eight matches.

His biggest contribution included not giving up a bonus point to then top-ranked Max Askren of Missouri in the championship duel, helping the Gophers win the National title.

"I knew it was going to be tough, but I just wanted to keep the scores close," Eidenschink said. "It was nice having Cole (Conrad) behind me, because he was almost automatic. It was lots of fun winning the National Championship."

Eidenschink was able to win the title, along with Frazee native Gabe Dretsch, who was a major contributor at 174 pounds.

In fact, Robinson has opened up a pipeline to western Minnesota, recruiting wrestlers from Frazee (Matt Nagel and Dretsch), Eidenschink and Park Rapids' Tyler Safratowich.

It obviously wasn't a point missed by Eidenschink.

"J likes recruiting wrestlers from this area because we do have a good work ethic," the DL wrestler said. "Gabe has been my mentor, and he helped me with things like cutting weight and adjusting to training. He will still be around to help me out (Dretsch graduated this past year)."

After posting a record of 10-11 in three tournaments, Eidenschink hit his first obstacle two weeks before the Big 10 Tournament in the form of three torn ligaments -- the PCL, MCL and LCL -- in his knee.

It was the first major injury Eidenschink suffered in his wrestling career, and it knocked him off the mat through the months of February through June of 2007.

"It just drove me crazy," Eidenschink said. "I was watching guys I was competing well against win National Championships. I wasn't able to do anything with my legs, but the coaches helped work on my mental training.

"That was the longest I've been off the mat and since then, I've only been off the mat for two days."

As he entered his sophomore season, the expectations to start were high, from Eidenschink and his coaches.

He started the season out well, taking second in the Bison Open and third in another open.

But soon after, another injury crippled his starting status -- this time, a torn meniscus in the same knee as before.

Robinson put a redshirt on Eidenschink this time, and he wrestled in as many open tournaments as possible, as he collected 20-plus matches with only two losses.

That led into this past spring, where Eidenschink was chomping on the bit to prove himself. He cut down to 185 pounds as he readied himself for the World Team Trials, which happened in May.

Through the months of March through May, Eidenschink wrestled in 45 matches, in Freestyle and Greco.

At the request of the coaches, Eidenschink went up to 211.5 pounds for the World Team Trials.

In his first bout in the Freestyle tournament, yet another injury hit Eidenschink -- this time a dislocated collarbone, which separated off his sternum.

But unlike his knee injuries, Eidenschink literally wrestled through it.

Although he had to injury default out of the Freestyle tourney, he accumulated four wins in Greco to earn a berth in the finals -- where a victory would have put him on the National Team in Istanbul, Turkey.

But unfortunately, the Gopher came up a bit short.

"I wrestled well on my feet in the finals, but he got on top of me and with my collarbone, he was able to get my shoulder down and pin me," Eidenschink said.

Despite the fact he was basically wrestling with one arm, Eidenschink was upset and disappointed he missed his opportunity to join the National Team in Istanbul.

"I was just frustrated that I trained all spring, and I had it in my head I was going to go to Turkey," he added.

But his wrestling competition wasn't done, as the Gopher coaches wanted Eidenschink to wrestle in the Pan Am Junior Championships.

Good idea.

In the three weeks in between the National Team Trials and the Pan Am Championships, Eidenschink trained with Olympic qualifier Jake Deitchler and worked with some of the top coaches in the nation.

Expectations were high.

"Anything but gold in both Freestyle and Greco was not acceptable," Eidenschink said. "I figured I had lost enough."

Kish had been the only other Gopher ever to win gold medals in both Greco and Freestyle, and Eidenschink was about to match that feat.

But as was Eidenschink's luck, he was struck by another injury -- a broken finger in one of his first matches.

"It was just a finger, so that didn't bug me," he stated.

Obviously, it didn't "bug" him, as he crushed all opposition in both the Freestyle and Greco, with only one point being scored on him combined in both tournaments.

"I was coached better than anybody there and I was in better condition," Eidenschink said of his advantages over his international competition.

In both Freestyle and Greco, Team USA also was victorious.

"It felt really good when I was up on the podium and the National Anthem was played," Eidenschink commented. "It's the closest I will get to that for awhile."

The DL native will have two weeks off in August, where he will vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with coaches and teammates -- and then it's right back to work.

It's back to his two to three practices a day and the pressure of winning a starting spot --he will battle for the starting 184-pound slot for the Gophers.

"I'm expecting to earn a starting spot and go into the Big 10 Tournament at the top of my game," Eidenschink said. "I want to qualify for Nationals and earn All-America honors.

"Doing well at the Pan Am Championships will help out a lot too. I figured if I can handle some of the best Mexico and other countries have, I can handle a farm boy from Iowa."

After overcoming his own injury-related trials and tribulations in his first two years, it will be hard to doubt how far Eidenschink can really go as a Golden Gopher.