Gophers at full strength heading into Big Ten tournament

Minnesota will have its best on the mats as it hosts the event at Williams this weekend.

Trevor Born

It’s taken almost four months, but the 10 best Gophers wrestlers will finally compete together this weekend.

It is the first time all season, and it comes at a good time. This weekend is the Big Ten Tournament, hosted by the Gophers for the first time since 1997.

The tournament starts at 11 a.m. Saturday and at noon Sunday, and will take place at Williams Arena. Minnesota (14-7, 5-3 Big Ten) has won six of the last nine conference titles, including last season’s.

“I think this team, with all the guys healthy, might be one of the best in wrestling history,” Gophers head coach J Robinson said. “No one has seen what we can really do, yet.”

No. 3 Dustin Schlatter, No. 6 C.P. Schlatter and No. 9 Roger Kish have all missed time with injuries this year, but are all expected to start, according to the team.

“Once we have the whole team together, I think we’ll get that feeling of being the best team in the nation back,” Tyler Safratowich said.

Eight of the 10 wrestlers in this “ideal” lineup are ranked in the top 11 of their weight classes.

Schlatter, a national champion as a freshman last year, missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.

He has competed in the last three dual-meets, but it was clear in the Gophers’ last meet that he was not fully healthy. Schlatter was pinned for the first time since elementary school in the Gophers’ final dual-meet last Sunday, dropping his collegiate record to 52-2.

Kish returned to the team Feb. 1, but lost his first two matches. Since that time, he has won all three of his matches, but he has also been held out of two, including the team’s most recent.

“Even though some of the guys have come back, we know they haven’t been that close to 100 percent,” Jayson Ness said. “This weekend we feel like everybody is not only back, but in good wrestling condition.”

Ness is the No. 1 wrestler in the 125-pound division. The sophomore is 33-0 and carrying the second-longest active winning streak in Division 1.

Because it has so many wrestlers expected to contend for a conference title, Minnesota is well-built for the championship-style tournament. Scoring in the Big Ten tournament is determined by how far individual wrestlers advance in their brackets.

The Gophers are second in the nation in W.I.N. Magazine’s “Tournament Power Index.” Of course, the top five teams in the Index are from the Big Ten. Iowa is No. 1, then Minnesota, followed by Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern.

“There are tons of great wrestlers in the conference this year,” Safratowich said when asked about the tournament competition. “It’s not going to be easy to get a title this year.”

Ness, who was sitting next to him at the time, shook his head.

“I expect it to be just like last year,” Ness said. “I expect us to go out there and completely dominate the tournament. With everybody back, we have more than the capability to do it.”