Mankato braces for No. 2 Gophers

Sarah Mitchell

Although Minnesota’s wrestling team barely worked up a sweat last season in its matchup against Division II Mankato — the Mavericks were shutout by a 38-0 score — the two programs still have plenty in common.
Both have one returning national champ — Gophers All-American Tim Hartung at 197 pounds and the Mavericks’ Troy Szydel (149) — and both have built reputations as a national contender, although on entirely different levels.
“(The Gophers) have kind of been knocking on the door for the past couple of years,” Mavericks coach Jim Makovsky said. “Winning a national championship is now a legitimate goal.”
On Thursday the otherwise similar programs will be separated by talent and intensity. The 2nd-ranked Gophers and Minnesota State, ranked 7th in Division II, enter Otto Arena in opposite states of mind.
Minnesota coaches aren’t exactly anticipating a struggle but still opted to travel with their varsity roster. Coming off a narrow loss to top-ranked Oklahoma State on Sunday, some of the Gophers simply needed more mat time.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, will be flying high during warm-ups. Minnesota State’s first 1998 dual meet is against one of the nation’s top teams, and hopes of an upset will be running through the wrestlers’ minds.
“They’ll be up for it big time,” Gophers junior Delaney Berger said. “This probably is the most exciting thing for them, getting the chance to take down a Gopher.”
Despite a we-don’t-expect-to-lose attitude, Minnesota isn’t taking the Mavericks lightly.
“We don’t ever look past anybody,” junior Brandon Eggum said. “Everybody is still working hard for everything.”
As for individual match-ups, an intriguing one is emerging at the 149-pound weight class. Unranked senior Troy Marr is slated to meet the Mavericks’ lone national champion. Szydel owns a 6-2 record in two open tournaments this year.
“A national champion is always tough, no matter at what level,” Gophers coach Mark Schwab said. “I’m sure (Mankato) will be fired up and ready to go. I think some of our guys are coming down a little bit.”
In his sixth season with the team, Makovsky expects Thursday’s crowd to be one of the largest he’s paced in front of.
And the incentive for fans to drive to Otto Arena will not leave with the departure of the Gophers bus. After Thursday’s dual meet, Minnesota State’s burden lessens only slightly as they prepare to go head-to-head with No. 23 (in Division I) Northern Iowa in mid-December.
“A lot of people from smaller towns are intimidated to drive into the city and pay six bucks for parking or whatever,” Makovsky said. “(Mankato) is a little bit more accessible.”
Despite similar wrestling styles — aggressive and dominating — Mavericks coaches aren’t counting on a victory for the underdog. Not only do the Gophers have the edge by competing at the top collegiate level on a regular basis, they also own the past.
Minnesota holds a 4-0 series advantage over the Mavericks, outscoring Mankato 145-23. Factoring in history, Makovsky is looking for no more from his team than an effort indicative of Division II powerhouse.
“I’d be a fool to say that our goal is to beat them,” Makovsky said. “We’re just going to prepare to compete.”