Injuries, illness have Gophers scrambling

Minnesota's wrestling team has started 21 different wrestlers in 12 dual meets.

Matt Anderson

From the looks of early-season action, Minnesota’s wrestling team might be capable of claiming its fourth Big Ten championship in five years early next month in Iowa City, Iowa.

Problem is, it might take the Gophers that long just to find a lineup they can take to the conference meet.

After one weekend of Big Ten competition, the Gophers have started 21 different wrestlers through 12 dual meets, including five who have competed at two different weight classes. After two Big Ten dual meets last year, the team started 16 different wrestlers, and only Thomas McAlpine wrestled at two different weight classes.

“It’s been a strange year, with injuries and illness more than normal,” assistant coach Joe Russell said. “This time of year, you get beat up, and that happens. We’ve just had more than our fair share.”

And now, complicating matters is C.P. Schlatter, who moved up to 157 pounds for the remainder of the season Sunday after wrestling at 149 in the previous eight duals.

“It’s a little bit tricky, because there are some guys that were planning on being on the team, but it opens up opportunities for other guys,” Russell said. “(Schlatter) at full strength at (157) is going to be a lot better than how miserable he was at 149.”

With Schlatter at 157 pounds, Nik Lentz and Danny Williams find themselves in roles that just a week earlier would have been hard to imagine.

Williams, who had started at 149 pounds while Schlatter was out with a knee injury for the first part of the season, is back on the bout sheet at 149. Now, he factors into the Gophers’ plans for the rest of the year.

“I haven’t wrestled a meet since Dec. 7 before the Michigan dual,” Williams said. “Now, I might have to do a little bit extra to get back in shape so I can bang with the other opponents and do good.”

Lentz, the 157-pound starter for seven of Minnesota’s previous 11 meets, was bumped up two weight classes to 174 pounds Sunday, in which co-starters Josh McLay and Gabriel Dretsch are out with injuries.

With Schlatter at 157 pounds, Lentz must wrestle at a different weight class than he is accustomed to for the rest of the

season.

“Every time I go out to wrestle, it’s the same thing mentally, it’s the same thing physically,” Lentz said. “I should always go out there to win, no matter what weight class it is.”

While some spots have been forced into multiple starters because of injury, 141 and 197 pounds are two spots in which Minnesota has been healthy but also has lacked a full-time starter.

The Gophers have been alternating starters at each weight class, with Tommy Owen and Quincy Osborn splitting time at 141, and Jon Duncombe and Matt Koz alternating at 197.

Russell said that for the benefit of the team, those weight classes need to be decided soon.

“I think as coaches, we need to get a pretty firm decision by the time we go to Iowa next week,” Russell said. “We want to give the guys about the last four duals of the year to know they’re the guy, give them extra time and prepare for Big Tens.”