Redshirt freshman class looks to boost Minnesota

Five redshirt freshmen will almost surely start for the Gophers this season.

Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s wrestling team is coming off its worst NCAA Championships finish since 1996.

But upperclassman leadership isn’t the ticket out of this valley. No, coach J Robinson is counting on a group of redshirt freshmen to prove March’s eighth-place finish at the Savvis Center in St. Louis was an aberration.

And as the Gophers kicked off their early-season tournaments this weekend at the Bison Open in Fargo, N.D., Robinson said the team is anxious to see if the talented class will translate to wins on the mat.

“The freshmen are really doing well in practice,” he said. “There’s an air of excitement and anticipation, and we’re going to find out how we stack up against different teams.”

The likely freshman starters for the Gophers include Mack Reiter at 133 pounds, C.P. Schlatter at 149, Mitch Kuhlman at 157, Roger Kish at 184 and Matt Koz at 197.

Because Minnesota lost just two starters from last year’s squad – All-American Jacob Volkmann and national champion Damion Hahn – and 149-pound starter Jeremy Anderson is redshirting, the seven remaining former starters will face battles to get mat time.

Some of the more intriguing starting competitions should take place at 141, in which last year’s starter Tommy Owen will face off with last year’s 133 starter Quincy Osborn, along with Danny Williams and Will Holst.

Holst won the Bison Open’s 141 tournament, Osborn finished fourth and Williams won the tournament at 149.

At 174, last year’s starter Jon Duncombe will need to fend off the Gophers’ 184-pounder from a year ago, Josh McLay, and Gabriel Dretsch, who won the Bison Open’s 174 tournament.

About the only 2003-04 starters who seem to have safe spots are Bobbe Lowe at 125, Matt Nagel at 165 (up from 157 a year ago) and All-American heavyweight Cole Konrad.

The rest is up to the redshirt freshmen, who aren’t shy about taking starting spots from some of the veterans.

“We try not to think about it too much,” said Schlatter, who Robinson said should return from an anterior cruciate ligament injury by January. “But we were the number one recruiting class, and we’re expected to boost this team up. We’re supposed to be All-Americans.”

The freshmen got a good start when three of them won their weights at the Bison Open. Reiter, Dretsch and Kish swept their brackets, while Kuhlman took second. Koz did not wrestle.

And they expect to win – now, they said. Not only that, but they are looking at the past as an example.

“Our goal is (to win the national championship) this year,” Reiter said. “If not this year, then definitely next year. We just have to have 10 All-Americans, and do exactly what the 2001 team did.”