Seasoning, health helping Gophers to early dual success

David McCoy

Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson said he’s “not so sure” his team is off to a better start than last season.

But after a 4-0 start in dual meets, the fifth-ranked Gophers have shown a marked difference thus far that goes far beyond their record.

And what Robinson did say explains why:

“Last year, we had a lot of injuries and stuff. I think that the guys are just older, they’re more mature, they know what to expect, they’re excited about their team and I think they think they can win and I think that confidence makes a big difference.”

All those factors have a couple of his grapplers saying what their coach didn’t quite want to say.

“I think we’re a little bit ahead of where we were last year,” 133-pound sophomore Mack Reiter said. “Last year we started the season with Oklahoma State at home and we had a rough dual there. But I think we’re definitely looking good early this year.”

That’s the first contrast. The Gophers lost 28-10 to the Cowboys in their first dual meet of the season last year ” a team Minnesota couldn’t quite solve all season.

But before this dual season began, No. 4 Minnesota 165-pounder Matt Nagel and second-ranked heavyweight Cole Konrad knocked off two defending national champions from No. 1 Oklahoma State, Johnny Hendricks and Steve Mocco, at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic on Nov. 21.

Those wins were huge for another factor Robinson referred to ” confidence.

“It did a lot for the confidence of the team, letting them know that they are definitely beatable,” Konrad said. “We’re right up there, at least the same caliber. Actually, I was looking on the Internet and on a poll they have us as the top team to beat them. Even little things like that are big for us motivation-wise, because other people see it too.”

Last year, half of the people in Minnesota’s starting lineup were from its heralded redshirt freshman class. This year, those wrestlers started the season with experience.

“Last year we had a lot of freshmen in the lineup, so we weren’t as tight as a team,” Konrad said. “And this year we’ve all been through a season. So I mean, we’re all real close now, wrestling as a team.”

Minnesota also had to endure a slew of injuries that complicated continuity.

C.P. Schlatter missed the first two months of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Tommy Owen missed the majority of the first two months with a neck injury and Gabe Dretsch was out until the end of January with a groin injury.

Add in various injuries to Bobbe Lowe, Roger Kish and Josh McLay as the season progressed, and Minnesota struggled to set its lineup all year.

But the Gophers are completely healthy this season, Konrad said. Robinson attributed the better health to better, harder training.

The Gophers also struggled to put serious contenders in the 149-pound and 157-pound weight classes, going 1-7 in those classes in the first four dual meets and getting outscored 36-3.

But this season, Schlatter has teamed with younger brother true freshman Dustin Schlatter to bolster those two classes, in which Minnesota is 7-1 this season while outscoring opponents 31-3.

“Last year we couldn’t get our whole lineup together until the Big Ten Tournament,” Konrad said. “That hurt us a lot last year, but now everything’s good.”