Sanders, Minnesota seek glory at Big Ten championships

The Gophers’ 125-pound senior has never won a Big Ten title.

Gophers Zach Sanders wrestles Austin Hietpas on Jan. 22 at the Sports Pavilion.

Marisa Wojcik

Gophers Zach Sanders wrestles Austin Hietpas on Jan. 22 at the Sports Pavilion.

Drew Claussen

Zach Sanders has two third-place finishes in his career at the Big Ten championships. This year is his last go around, and he’s looking to capture the elusive title.

“Obviously that’s the goal every time — to beat the guy in front of you and to take home the title for your team,” Sanders said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Sanders said that his confidence — along with the rest of the team’s — is very high after winning the National Duals two weeks ago. He added that he thinks this year’s team is the best squad Minnesota has had in his tenure.

“I’m really confident in myself this year,” Sanders said. “Pretty much every dual meet, I’ve had a ranked guy every weekend — and I’ve been wrestling really well.

He added, “I think that this is my year to get better than third place, at least, and take home a Big Ten title.”

Sanders has a 22-2 record this season. Both of his losses were to Iowa’s Matt McDonough.

If seeds hold during the Big Ten championships, No. 2-seeded Sanders will take on No. 1-seeded McDonough.

“Obviously I want to beat him at some point in my career, and I’m running out of tournaments,” Sanders said with a laugh.

“It’s not that I’m far off as a wrestler,” he added. “I’ve just got to figure out the best strategy to wrestle him.”

After the Big Ten championships, Sanders and McDonough could potentially meet up at the NCAA championships in St. Louis, Mo., March 15-17.

Head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said he does not want Sanders focusing on anyone in particular because upsets aren’t rare at postseason tournaments like the Big Ten, and he’s wary of Sanders bowing out before the title match.

“He’s in an area where he can definitely beat anybody in the country,” Eggum said. “There’s no question that he’s at a spot in his career where he can win a Big Ten title.”

Eggum added that the matches Sanders has lost in past championships have been closely contested.

“He’s wrestling at a higher level [this year],” Eggum said. “His confidence is good, but his training has been perfect.”

Sanders and Sonny Yohn are the Gophers’ two senior captains and are joined by sophomore captains Kevin Steinhaus and Tony Nelson.

Logan Storley, the team’s only starting true freshman, said  Sanders and Yohn have helped him as he prepares for his first Big Ten championships.

Nine Gophers seeded

Nine of the 10 members in the Gophers lineup will be individually seeded in the Big Ten championships.

 Steinhaus (184), Sonny Yohn (197) and Nelson (heavyweight) all sit atop of their respective weight classes.

Storley (174) and Sanders are both seeded second.

Dylan Ness (149) is ranked third and Chris Dardanes (133) and Nick Dardanes (141) are ranked fourth.

Cody Yohn (165) will look to stir the pot as a No. 7 seed.

The Gophers are unseeded at 157 pounds, where Danny Zilverberg will wrestle.

If ranks hold, the Gophers are projected to finish seven points behind Penn State. So, for Minnesota to win, it will need production out of its whole lineup.

“It’s a team tournament as far as scoring,” Eggum said. “There isn’t one individual that’s more important than the other, really.”