Gophers, Iowa ready for rematch

by Allison Younge

Iowa heavyweight Wes Hand ran up and down the steps of Carver-Hawkeye Arena several times Sunday afternoon following Minnesota’s 18-17 National Dual Meet title victory.
The mass of disappointed Iowa fans adorned in black and gold had departed. Their one-time heavyweight hero was left alone to think about his match-clinching loss to Minnesota’s Shelton Benjamin and a rematch with the same wrestler less than a week later.
Benjamin admits he has also relived the pivotal match during the last five days. In the final bout, with the Gophers down by five points, Benjamin unexpectedly caught Hand, threw him on his back and pinned him to the mat.
Minnesota’s heavyweight prevailed, earning six team points to give his team a one-point victory over Iowa and the National Duals title. While the Gophers earned the win in an unconventional way, it was a victory just the same.
“Our guys went down there to wrestle. They won matches that they had to win and they pulled it out,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “They did what Iowa has done for years — the role was all of a sudden reversed.”
While Minnesota holds a 1-0 advantage over Iowa this season, the Hawkeyes have traditionally controlled the odds. Iowa dominates the all-time series record, posting a 51-18-1 advantage over Minnesota. The Hawkeyes have won 24 straight Big Ten titles and 17 of the last 23 NCAA titles. Going into the 1997-98 season, Minnesota had defeated Iowa only two times in 30 years of competition.
Tonight, the Gophers have a chance to claim their second win over the Hawkeyes this season, an uncommon feat in itself. Add to it that Minnesota could earn its second win over Iowa in five days, and it’s almost unthinkable.
The teams’ most recent encounter, a longtime bitter rivalry and thousands of energetic fans give strong evidence that tonight’s match could be historic.
“When you throw all of those things together, it’s like two titans on a collision course. Something has got to give,” Robinson said.
Minnesota’s objective is to validate Sunday’s win by delivering Iowa another loss. Gophers’ 190-pounder Tim Hartung said a second win is vital in keeping the team’s confidence level up for the remaining matches of the dual meet season.
“It’s very important that we win this one,” Hartung said. “We’re coming off a real high after that victory. To lose to them now would kind of erase that, in a way.”
While Oklahoma State still sits on top of the national rankings, Robinson thinks that beating Iowa again could put the Gophers in prime position to be ranked No. 1. Tonight, however, records and rankings will fade, Sunday’s clutch win will become a thing of the past — and the Gophers will need to focus on the task at hand.
“They have to realize that there’s no easy way to go out there and win,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought match, you’re going to get tired, that’s just part of it. But instead of fearing it, embrace it — go forward with it. You’re not going to come off the mat without being tired, so you might as well come off a winner.”