Top billing brings added pressure to win

by Tyler Rushmeyer

Everyone is gunning for the king on top of the collegiate wrestling hill.

The top-ranked Minnesota wrestling team quickly found this out Saturday in Albany, N.Y.

Teams are treating their matches with the Gophers as the biggest of the early season. And, if Minnesota wishes to remain on the No. 1 perch, the wrestlers in maroon and gold will need to be prepared to face the intense opposing effort.

Coach J Robinson said he doesn’t take the ranking for granted.

“Any time you’re number one, it’s great, because that’s what you strive for,” he said. “But, at the same time, you have to retain it and sometimes that’s harder than getting there.”

When Minnesota came out flat against No. 11 Hofstra this past weekend at the Northeast Duals, it soon found itself 0-1 after its opening match. And even though it rebounded to win its final three, Minnesota became witness to the consequences of falling into the lull a top ranking can provide.

Redshirt freshman Jayson Ness (125) said it is something that he, along with the team, will strive to avoid as the season goes on.

“We started number one, but we got to finish there,” he said. “Being in our position has a certain responsibility Ö teams will definitely be gunning for us and we need to respond.”

Being ranked number one instills a sense of pride for the Minnesota wrestlers, but they said they realize opposing teams will be looking to knock them down a peg all season.

This is something that sophomore Dustin Schlatter (149) is more than ready for.

“Everyone’s going to come play us hard and try to take down the top dog,” he said. “It’s a fun role to be in, and we’re ready to defend it.”

Schlatter credited last week’s unexpected opening loss to a lack of preparedness and said the team needs to wrestle hard no matter who the opponent.

His theory will have a chance to come into play when Minnesota faces off against unranked Northern Colorado this weekend.

Although facing an unranked opponent, junior Manuel Rivera (141) said last week’s defeat showed Minnesota that they are not invincible.

Rivera, who had a perfect 4-0 weekend, said although the older wrestlers had a good record in Albany, N.Y., they will need to pick up the scoring while the younger wrestlers gel into their starting roles.

The junior added it was evident in how teams upped their intensity trying to knock off the Gophers.

“It’s good because we have to always be prepared,” he said. “It just makes everything that much more challenging.”

Robinson said for Minnesota to remain on top, they will need to regain the attitude and technique that garnered the number one ranking to begin with.

Last year’s team began the season at No. 6 nationally before fighting its way to a No. 1 spot before the NCAA Tournament.

Beginning the season already at No. 1 has a different feeling to it, said Robinson.

“You have that sense of hunger when you’re not number one,” he said. “Once you get there, there’s that mentality of driving to defend it, and we need that as strong as it can be as we go on.”