U wrestlers take to the road

Aaron Blake

All year long, the talk from Minnesota’s wrestlers and coaches has been about progress and trading wins now for success later. But there comes a time when a team needs some kind of evidence of that progress.

That time might be this weekend when the Gophers travel to Champaign, Ill., on Friday to battle Illinois and Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday to take on Indiana.

The evidence should come in the form of a team win.

“I think (a win) is important,” 141-pound starter Tommy Owen said. “I think (the coaches) think that’s important too, but they’d never really say it.

“Confidence is our biggest problem right now. A few wins could get that going.”

The 15th-ranked Gophers (7-6, 1-3 Big Ten) are currently on a three-match losing streak, dropping home matches to Purdue and Wisconsin last weekend and a road match the week before to Michigan.

To put it in perspective, the Gophers haven’t lost three Big Ten duals in a season – let alone in a row – since 1995-96. In fact, they have only lost six conference matches in the seven years since.

But an easy win likely won’t come Friday when Minnesota faces the undefeated and third-ranked Illini (10-0, 4-0).

Illinois boasts seven wrestlers ranked in the top 10 at their respective weight classes. But the team has yet to face any upper-tier opponents.

Still, the confidence Owen feels is leaving the team is the same thing Gophers coach J Robinson is concerned might help Illinois push Minnesota even further down.

“They’ve got to realize that it’s going to be a fight, because (the Illini) are on a roll right now,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be easier for them than it is for us. When you’re in a hole, you’ve got to dig your way out.”

Robinson sees four matches in which his team could be favored. It’s taking one or two others that should determine whether Minnesota can peak its head out of that hole Friday night.

Saturday, however, should be a much easier opportunity to either snap a four-dual losing streak or extend one started Friday.

Unranked Indiana (17-5, 1-2) has not beaten Minnesota since 1991-92 and does not boast the same caliber wrestlers as a team such as Illinois.

But the Gophers have already fallen to teams they saw as weaker or haven’t lost to in a long time, so they aren’t taking anyone lightly at this point.

And that makes things so much worse.

“It’s not like we’re losing with a bad team,” Owen said. “That’s why everyone’s getting so frustrated. It’s frustrating because we’re losing with a good team.”

But the Gophers feel they have yet to realize that potential, and a win or two this weekend could go a long way toward helping them peak at the end of the season.