Heavyweights pull through for Minnesota

The No. 5 Gophers held on to late leads both Friday and Saturday with good showings from its heaviest classes.

The Gophers wrestling team has struggled in the two heaviest weight classes all season, but it was the big guys who pulled it out on Saturday, helping the Gophers to an important 24-15 win over No. 6 Michigan. The Gophers also beat unranked Michigan State 23-15 on Friday.

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what: Wrestling
when: 7:30 p.m., Friday
where: Sports Pavillion

The 197-pound and heavyweight divisions – the two heaviest in collegiate wrestling – are the only two weight classes who have sub-.500 dual-meet records for the Gophers this season, each at 5-9.

Yet clinging to an 18-15 lead with two matches remaining, 197-pound Justin Bronson and heavyweight Ben Berhow who each won their matches, giving the No. 5 Gophers (12-3, 2-0 Big Ten) just their second win over a top-10 opponent all season.

In the wake of two-time national champion Cole Konrad’s graduation, the Gophers have been unable to find a reliable heavyweight, using a combination of freshmen Berhow, Joe Nord and junior Yura Malamura.

Berhow has become the heavyweight-by-default, and has gone 4-3 in dual-meets but has not beaten a ranked opponent. Nord was the favorite to take over the position coming into the season, but he has gone 0-3 in dual-meets and hasn’t wrestled since Dec. 8th.

“Ben’s just a freshman, but we’ve seen a lot of promising things out of him,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “Of course, when you’re a freshman wrestling in the Big Ten you’re going to take your licks, so you can’t focus too much on record. He has the potential to be an elite wrestler someday.”

Bronson has started at the 197-pound spot most of the season, but is just 5-7 in dual-meets. On top of that, the senior is 0-6 against ranked opponents.

Yet Eggum thinks this weekend could be a turning point for both wrestlers.

“When your schedule is as difficult as ours is, a lot of it just comes down to getting on a roll and getting momentum, especially for more inexperienced guys,” he said. “A win like this is what spurs a lot of guys to get to that next level.”

Meanwhile, the lighter classes, which have carried the team, were again dominant, giving the Gophers a 15-0 early lead against the Wolverines (13-4, 0-1 Big Ten) and a 10-3 lead over Michigan State (3-6, 0-1 Big Ten).

The Gophers have a top-5 ranked wrestler in each of the three lightest weight classes – No. 1 Jayson Ness at 125-pounds, No. 2 Mack Reiter at 133-pounds and No. 4 Manuel Rivera at 141-pounds.

“It’s nice because we’ve all been having a lot of success this year and our weight classes are in a row so it makes it tough on opponents,” Rivera said. “Basically, there’s no escaping us.”

Rivera upset Michigan’s No. 4 Kellen Russell with a late score in the third period to win 4-2. Russell beat Rivera in the National Duals just two weeks ago.

With a pin and a major decision over the weekend, Ness improved his record to 26-0. Ness’ 17 pins lead the nation, and his 27 consecutive wins is the second longest active streak in Division I.