Banged-up Minn. opens Big Ten duals with big win

The Gophers dropped close meets to top-ranked Cornell and No. 4 Wisconsin over the holiday, but handled Indiana easily.

Derek Wetmore

Head coach J RobinsonâÄôs posture told you everything you needed to know during FridayâÄôs home Big Ten opener at the Sports Pavilion. Robinson, who typically leans forward and rests an elbow on his knee, chin in palm with an index finger extended up the bridge of his nose, was leaned back in his chair, looking as comfortable as ever.

Rightfully so. The No. 5 Gophers (10-3 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) controlled the dual from beginning to end, finishing with a 25-14 victory over the unranked Hoosiers.

As Robinson relaxed in his folding chair, the dual opened with a technical fall by Zach Sanders at 125, followed a come-from-behind, extra-time victory by David Thorn (133) and a fall by his older brother, Mike Thorn.

âÄúIt feels great,âÄù the younger Thorn said. âÄúThis is my first home dual ever, really my first dual ever, so it feels good finally be getting healthy.âÄù

The victory, in which Thorn secured a takedown with less than five seconds remaining in the third period to force extra time, thrilled the crowd, which then relaxed with Robinson for the rest of the night.

With Minnesota leading the dual 14-0 after three weights, the Sports Pavilion sat back and enjoyed, rather than feeling the need to get loud for the Big Ten home opener. During the heavyweight match in which No. 9 Tony Nelson dropped a narrow 3-1 decision in extra time, however, the crowd grew frustrated by the seven-minute stalemate. NelsonâÄôs opponent, Ricky Alcala was hefty and slow on his feet, and the crowd urged Nelson to attempt a takedown of his opponent.

Still, NelsonâÄôs loss mattered little, as the dual was already decided.

Two days later, Minnesota took care of No. 16 Iowa State just as easily in Ames, Iowa, 26-13.

Kevin Steinhaus (184) and Sanders (125) earned technical falls to lead the way, and David Thorn (133) majored to cap his impressive weekend.

âÄúIt was a good day, not great, so weâÄôve got to keep making progress,âÄù assistant coach Joe Russell said. âÄúItâÄôs good to get the win.âÄù

The conference win and the defeat of Iowa State will help point the Gophers in the right direction after a holiday break during which they dropped a few notches in the national pecking order. Minnesota entered the break ranked third in the country, but following a fifth-place Southern Scuffle showing on Dec. 30, it fell two places.

All-Americans Sanders and Thorn (141) and Cody Yohn (165) each finished second at their respective weights, but the Gophers failed to earn any outright titles.

Added to that was an injury to junior Sonny Yohn, who has yet to return to the lineup. He is day-to-day, Russell said.

 Following the Southern Scuffle, Minnesota recorded victories over Northern Illinois and then-No. 6 Boise State to open the National Duals. It then dropped consecutive duals to top-ranked Cornell and No. 4 Wisconsin.

âÄúOverall we were a little disappointed with the results there, but we have the makings of a good team,âÄù Russell said. âÄúWeâÄôve just got to keep guys improving and heading in the right direction.âÄù

The Wisconsin loss stung (it was decided by two points, 19-17), but the fact that Minnesota dropped that matchup as well as that with No. 1 Cornell (20-16) by mere bonus points is an encouraging sign and illustrates the parity atop the college wrestling ranks.

âÄúTo go in there and go five-to-five [matches] with Cornell was good,âÄù Russell said. âÄúIt shows weâÄôre right there with the better teams with guys out of the lineup. We need to show we can win those matches as well.âÄù

Encouragingly, MinnesotaâÄôs three dual losses this season have been by a combined seven points, and two were to the top two teams in the country. But health is seemingly always a concern.

The first priority for Minnesota is getting All-American Sonny Yohn healthy and back in the lineup. A close second would be getting Scott Glasser (174) and other wrestlers with various minor injuries back to 100 percent.

Glasser wrestled Friday with two ankle braces, a right knee wrap and a full leg wrap on his left leg. Russell said the team has jokingly nicknamed him âÄúThe Mummy.âÄù

Beyond those two, one person that might prove crucial to getting Minnesota over the hump is Jake Deitchler (157).

Deitchler redshirted last season while the NCAA investigated his role in accepting prize money from a tournament.

After an appeal by the program, he had to sit out the first eight contests this season and is now eligible to wrestle. However, he is dealing with a concussion that Russell said will keep him out a little while longer.

âÄúHeâÄôs back training with us,âÄù Russell said. âÄúWeâÄôre just making sure he gets healthy, thatâÄôs the most important thing, not just for wrestling but for life.âÄù

Deitchler was an elite recruit coming out of high school and competed in the Olympics. If healthy, he would be a huge boost to a Gophers team that has struggled at the 157 weight.