Minnesota wrestling got one of its old leaders back and a little help from a new guy this weekend, as the Gophers recalibrated themselves with a huge upset of No. 3 Illinois and a blowout of Indiana.
Senior 165-pound All-American Jacob Volkmann returned to the lineup Friday after missing more than a month of dual meets, and junior transfer Jon Duncombe scored an upset pin of Illinois’ eighth-ranked Pete Friedl at 174 pounds as No. 15 Minnesota defeated the Illini 19-16 on Friday in Champaign, Ill.
The Gophers (9-6, 3-3 Big Ten) followed up the feat by disposing of the Hoosiers 32-7 in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday night.
“It was very positive for our team to see that they could compete with really good teams again,” assistant coach Joe Russell said. “They wrestled with a lot more emotion and a lot more fight.”
On Friday, the Gophers trailed Illinois (11-1, 5-1) 10-3 after four matches.
Sophomore 157-pounder Matt Nagel then battled Alex Tirapelle, the top-ranked 157-pound wrestler in the country, into overtime before succumbing to a takedown and a 3-1 loss.
At 165 pounds, Volkmann returned to earn a 10-6 decision over Illinois’ Ben Hay in his first match since Jan. 4 versus Portland State. He had been out with an eye socket injury.
“There wasn’t a point during either match this weekend when (Volkmann) wasn’t in control,” senior 197-pounder Damion Hahn said. “He needed to relax a little bit, because he was so excited to wrestle. I kind of felt sorry for whoever he was going to wrestle, because he was going to bring it to him.”
But the Gophers still trailed 13-6 after Volkmann’s win, and they knew they needed 174-pounder Duncombe to pull off an upset.
They got it, and then some.
Duncombe, ranked 15th, battled Friedl into the third period in a close match. In that period, Duncombe was able to hook Friedl’s leg and put him on his back, holding on for the pin at 6:18 and an enormous six points for his team.
“We were ecstatic,” Duncombe said. “He was expected to beat me. But, if I would have lost, there was no way we were going to win the dual.”
Though the Gophers still trailed 13-12, they got the individual upset they needed to pull off the team upset.
Josh McLay brought fourth-ranked Brian Glynn into overtime before dropping a 3-1 decision, and then it was up to national champion Hahn and sixth-ranked heavyweight Cole Konrad to take care of business in the final two matches.
Hahn extended his 14-match winning streak – which was extended to 15 at Indiana – with a 6-2 decision over eighth-ranked Jason Potter at 197 pounds, but Minnesota was still down 16-15.
Then Konrad, who had been disappointed in his performances the previous weekend in team losses to Wisconsin and Purdue, scored a 10-2 major decision over eighth-ranked Mike Behnke.
Konrad’s four team points earned the Gophers a 19-16 victory and gave them their first victory over a ranked opponent since beating No. 2 Nebraska on New Year’s Day.
“Basically, (the Illini) couldn’t take the pressure and the heat,” Hahn said. “That was a big confidence booster, and on Saturday versus Indiana we just had to keep the ball rolling.”
The confidence Minnesota recovered Friday carried over in a big way on Saturday, as the Gophers dropped just two matches en route to the 32-7 win over the Hoosiers (17-6, 1-3).
Nagel led the Gophers by pinning Matt Cooper in 6:33 while Duncombe again overachieved, defeating No. 12 Brady Richardson 8-4.