Minnesota wrestles against Iowa State and Nebraska this weekend.

Minnesota wrestles against Iowa State and Nebraska this weekend.

by David McCoy

Minnesota’s wrestling team is off to its best start since winning the national title with a perfect dual record of 19-0 in 2001-2002.

The fifth-ranked Gophers (5-0) are a quarter of the way there. But their success hasn’t exactly come against the top competition.

Minnesota’s highest-ranked opponent so far this season was No. 15 Central Michigan; a team the Gophers defeated 19-13 at Northeast Duals on Nov. 26.

So when No. 7 Iowa State comes to Williams Arena at 7 tonight, Minnesota’s home opener also will be its first true test of the season.

The Gophers also play host to No. 19 Nebraska at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sports Pavilion.

“We’re definitely stepping it up,” assistant coach Joe Russell said. “These are two quality teams. The other teams that we faced are good, but these teams have proven ” especially Iowa State ” that they’re one of the best in the country.”

Iowa State has certainly had Minnesota’s number. The Cyclones lead the all-time series 33-13-2 and have won the past four matchups.

Iowa State beat Minnesota 21-12 last year in Ames, Iowa. The Gophers won three of the dual’s first four matches with wins in the heavyweight, 125, 133 and 149 pounds. But then the Cyclones’ big men took over, winning the final five matches in a row to pull out the come-from-behind victory.

But what’s happened in the past doesn’t have any effect on how 197-pounder Mitch Kuhlman sees the outcome.

“If we wrestle the way we should, then we shouldn’t have any problem,” Kuhlman said. “I mean, it’s going to be tough, but if we wrestle (well), we’ll be good.”

Couple that with the fact that Iowa State is Minnesota’s closest Division I rival in terms of distance, and the Gophers won’t have any trouble getting their adrenaline pumping, Russell said.

“It’s definitely going to be easy for our guys to get fired up about it, because it is big bragging rights,” Russell said. “Iowa State, you know, that’s always a big rivalry for us. It’s going to be easy for the guys to get excited on Friday night.”

Minnesota 133-pound wrestler Mack Reiter, ranked No. 4 in the nation, has his own brand of fuel for motivation against Cyclones 133-pounder Jesse Sundell.

Reiter, a native of Gilbertville, Iowa, said his brother lost to Sundell in the Iowa high school state finals.

“I like to wrestle him,” Reiter said. “I wrestled him twice last year and beat him both times, so (I’m) kind of evening it up for the family a little bit.”

Although the Iowa State dual clearly is the showcase matchup, Minnesota will have its hands full with Nebraska as well.

The Huskers beat the Gophers by the same score as the Cyclones did last season. That was also a road match for Minnesota. And the team, which hasn’t wrestled at home since Feb. 20 against Illinois, is looking forward to the home-crowd support this weekend.

“I think everybody’s real excited to come back home and be in front of their fans,” Russell said. “We haven’t been in front of Minnesota fans for quite a while now. To be in front of (our fans) at home is a big deal to us.”

And for a team that hasn’t won a home meet since its only home win last season on Feb. 13 against Ohio State, and hasn’t beaten a ranked team at home since Feb. 15, 2004, against Iowa, Minnesota is geared up to change that trend, reward its fans and put an exclamation point on its perfect run this season.

“We ended last year with Illinois at home and it was a great dual,” Reiter said. “Almost had it there at the end. I think it would be great to go out there and beat Iowa State in front of some of the greatest fans there is. You know, get the season started off right.”