Minnesota takes encouragement from losing effort

Sunday’s loss to Illinois was actually a positive, coach J Robinson said.

Matt Anderson

It took until the final dual meet of the season, but Minnesota’s wrestling team finally feels like it can compete with the elite teams in the Big Ten.

Battling injuries and sickness all season, this weekend’s return of C.P. Schlatter at 157 pounds and sixth-ranked Roger Kish at 184 pounds meant the Gophers had a full lineup for the first time all year.

And in their last competition of the season, the full first string finally showed what it might be capable of, even if it was in a loss.

No. 9 Minnesota (9-9, 3-5 Big Ten) dropped both of its weekend dual meets, falling to No. 14 Wisconsin 18-17 on Friday in Madison, Wis., and losing 24-13 to No. 4 Illinois on Sunday.

Although both duals resulted in losses, players and coaches said they saw a marked improvement in Sunday’s contest against the Illini (16-1-1, 7-0-1).

“The basic thing that changed was our attitude and the way they wanted to wrestle,” coach J Robinson said. “It wasn’t necessarily about winning and losing; it was about effort and how hard they tried.”

The Illinois match started at 149 pounds, and the Illini took advantage by winning decisions at 149 and 157 against top-15 Gophers wrestlers.

Junior Matt Nagel, ranked 10th at 165, gave Minnesota its first win of the dual with a 6-2 decision against 14th-ranked Donny Reynolds.

“I’ve been working hard and hard, and now things are starting to pay off for me,” Nagel said. “I think that’s what happens when people start to work hard, and down the stretch, things start to pay off for them.”

In the next two matches, Minnesota took two top-four wrestlers to the brink of defeat, but Gabriel Dretsch at 174 and Kish at 184 were unable to finish.

After Cole Konrad won at heavyweight, the Gophers final win of the match came at 133, in which fourth-ranked Mack Reiter pinned third-ranked Mark Jayne at 2:49 of the bout.

It was Reiter’s second win this season against Jayne, and especially important after he had dropped his last two matches.

“Mentally, I’m back in it again,” Reiter said. “I was really kind of getting a little down on myself after the last few matches. I was a little disappointed, but now, I feel real good.”

But Friday’s match against the Badgers (11-3-2, 4-3-1) was disappointing for the team and Reiter.

Reiter lost a 6-3 decision to 12th-ranked Tom Clum, and Minnesota won just four matches en route to the 18-17 loss.

One of the matches the Gophers managed to win ended up causing controversy.

With an 18-11 lead heading into the last match of the night at heavyweight, Wisconsin coach Barry Davis elected not to send out Lee Kramer, instead forfeiting to Freedom, Wis., native Konrad.

That decision led to disappointment from those who traveled from Freedom to see Konrad and angry words between Robinson and Davis after the match.

“Forfeiting at the end there is just bush league,” Robinson said. “They’re making the excuse that Cole outweighs him by 60 pounds, but if the match is at stake, they would have wrestled him.”

Davis had a different take on the matter.

“I can’t afford my guy to get hurt right now,” Davis said. “My job is to get my heavyweight right now to the NCAA Championships. Well, if he’s not healthy, I can’t get him there.”

After the contentious end to Friday’s dual, the Gophers put in what Robinson called a much-better effort Sunday and began righting themselves before the Big Ten Championships.

“The key right now is: Can we make more progress in the next two weeks than everybody else?” Robinson said. “I think we can.”