Newly top-ranked Gophers to open conference season at home this weekend

David McCoy

After beating then-No. 1 Oklahoma State last weekend to win National Duals, Minnesota’s wrestling team (12-0) is ready for a change in its level of competition, coach J Robinson said.

It gets tougher.

The new No. 1 team faces its biggest rival at 2 p.m. Sunday at Williams Arena, and Robinson expects the match with No. 6 Iowa to be even more of a challenge than beating the Cowboys. The Gophers open their Big Ten dual schedule on Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 16 Northwestern in the Sports Pavilion.

“We don’t match up as well with Iowa,” Robinson said. “So that in itself makes it a little more intense. You’re in a situation where you’re ranked No. 1, but at the same time you want to make sure you put on a good performance.”

Sunday’s marquee matchup will pit Iowa’s No. 1 Ty Eustice against Minnesota’s No. 2 Dustin Schlatter at 149 pounds.

A true freshman, Schlatter moved up the ranks after beating then-No. 1 Zack Esposito, No. 2 Jon Masa and No. 5 Mark DiSalvo at National Duals last weekend.

“Definitely beating those guys was a confidence booster,” Schlatter said. “Those matches will get me ready for this level of competition.”

Schlatter’s older brother, C.P. Schlatter, has a big matchup as well. The elder ” ranked sixth ” is set to wrestle No. 5 Joe Johnston at 157 pounds.

But Robinson’s concern about the matchups comes across the board. Iowa outranks Minnesota in five of the 10 weight classes, while the Gophers have the advantage in only three, setting up key swing matches at 125 and 197.

“They’re picked to win in six of the 10, but Oklahoma State was picked to win in nine of the 10, so I mean that doesn’t really matter,” top-ranked heavyweight Cole Konrad said. “They’re not as powerful as Oklahoma State but they definitely have the potential to beat us if we’re not on our “A’ game. But we plan on being.”

Minnesota will split time at 125 and 197 this weekend, as it has all year, but indications are that Manuel Rivera has solidified the 141-pound spot for the moment.

Robinson said it’s getting more and more difficult for him to continue getting others ” such as Tyler Safratowich and Charles Lloyd ” in the mix when Rivera has performed so well lately. His recent performances include wins last weekend over Hofstra’s Charles Griffin and a huge momentum-turning upset of Oklahoma State’s sixth-ranked Daniel Frishkorn.

“Yeah, it’s harder,” Robinson said. “Without Manny’s win we don’t beat Oklahoma State. So you’ve got to give him the nod when the pressure was there and he came through.”

But although the focus of the weekend is surely on Iowa, Minnesota must be careful not to overlook Northwestern, assistant coach Joe Russell said.

“There isn’t one team in the Big Ten that won’t be a competitive dual,” Russell said. “I think the guys are smart enough to understand that. And if they’re not, we’re definitely going to remind them as the week goes on that we’ve got to take care of business on both days, not just one.”