Grapplers chasing dual perfection

Minnesota is 7-0. The 2001-2002 national championship squad went 19-0.

by David McCoy

There’s no No. 18 on this team. They don’t even have numbers. But the Indianapolis Colts aren’t the only team shooting for 19-0.

Minnesota’s wrestling team (7-0) is more than one-third of the way to equaling the feats of the 2001-2002 Gophers team, which went 19-0 in dual meets and won the national championship.

After a strong weekend in which No. 5 Minnesota won decisively against No. 7 Iowa State, 21-13, and No. 19 Nebraska, 27-11, the Gophers now are hoping a long stretch without competition will play to their advantage.

Minnesota doesn’t compete again until Dec. 29 at the Southern Scuffle in Greensboro, N.C.

“The first half of the season is a bit of a grind,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “Now we’re getting ready for the second half, which is going to be kind of a push.”

After the Scuffle, Minnesota has one meet at home Jan. 3 against Arizona State before National Duals and the Big Ten season.

Eggum said the time off will help his wrestlers get prepared, not only physically, but also mentally for the demanding push toward the title.

“A little bit of break here is important,” Eggum said. “The biggest thing now for these guys is that they take care of finals coming up, and then when they go home for Christmas they continue to work and continue to keep their weight down.

“Hopefully they’ll keep their focus on the second half of the season, which is the most important.”

Eggum said the team will have mornings off this week and his guys will wrestle in the evenings, pending respective finals schedules.

The team will be free to go home for winter break as soon as finals week is over. Those wrestling in the Scuffle will be back Dec. 27 and the rest will return Jan. 1 to hit it hard for the stretch run.

Eggum said the way the team believes in itself reminds him of the 2001-2002 champions. On the flip side, Eggum said, the team is enduring more struggles than that championship team because this one is younger.

But, at the same time, youth has served Minnesota well.

Out of the seven underclassmen who have figured prominently thus far ” 133-pounder Mack Reiter, 149-pounder Dustin Schlatter, 157-pounder C.P. Schlatter, 174-pounder Gabe Dretsch, 184-pounder Roger Kish, 197-pounder Mitch Kuhlman and 125-pounder Travis Lang ” Minnesota is 32-5 in duals.

Lang made a big impression last weekend in his first collegiate starts. He majored Iowa’s Ben Hanisch 8-0 and pinned Nebraska’s Paul Donahoe.

Although the starting job is still up for contention, Lang said he’s going to take this break seriously in order to win the right to wrestle down to the end.

“It’s a long road,” Lang said. “There’s still January and February and March, and there’s so much more to be done before the national tournament. But I’m not planning on not wrestling in March.”

Lang’s teammates are sure to follow.

“(The break) is good because it kind of teaches you to be able to be self-reliant and work out still,” Lang said. “Not competing for a while gives us a chance to train in the practice room.

“We’re really motivated right now and we want to get back to how the team did in 2001-2002. And I think we can all see it right now as long as we keep training hard.”