Gophers wrestling: Close losses lead to blowout in Iowa

Minnesota held a brief lead at 6-4, but couldn’t gain a point after that.

Gable Steveson grapples with his opponent at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2019. The Gophers lost to Penn State 31-10.

Parker Johnson

Gable Steveson grapples with his opponent at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2019. The Gophers lost to Penn State 31-10.

by Nolan O'Hara

Despite early success, the Gophers’ wrestling team dropped their second straight dual, falling to No. 1 Iowa 35-6, who clinched the Big Ten title with the win over Minnesota. 

Opening the dual at 184 pounds, senior Owen Webster gave the Gophers early momentum. He landed a takedown in the first and scored off an escape in the third en route to a 3-2 decision over Cash Wilcke. After Webster was able to give the Gophers a 3-0 lead, 197-pound Hunter Ritter tried to follow suit but couldn’t upset his top-5 opponent. He lost in a 13-4 decision and Iowa took the dual lead, 4-3. The most anticipated match of the night followed at heavyweight, a top-three matchup between No. 1 Gable Steveson and No. 3 Tony Cassioppi. 

Steveson handed Cassioppi his second loss of the season to stay undefeated at 11-0. Steveson landed two takedowns in the first and another in the third, taking the 7-5 decision in an exciting matchup that handed back the lead to the Gophers. 

“[Steveson] looks really comfortable from the standpoint of getting the win. He was never threatened to lose,” said head coach Brandon Eggum. “His goal is to become the best wrestler he can be, so we talked a little bit about wrestling a little tighter than you need to right now. … 

[Cassioppi]’s a top-ranked kid in the country, but Gable’s I still think a level or two above that kid.” 

The Gophers lead didn’t last long and the momentum completely flipped back in Iowa’s favor. Minnesota took a forfeit at 125 pounds and junior Boo Dryden took a technical fall at 133 pounds. In another top-5 matchup at 141 pounds, senior Mitch McKee nearly upset No. 3 Max Murin, forcing the match to sudden victory but Murin secured the 6-4 decision with a takedown. 

The Gophers lost another tight match at 149 pounds. No. 2 Pat Lugo landed the only takedown of the match in the first period and that was enough to secure the 3-2 decision over redshirt freshman Brayton Lee. 

The close battles continued at 157 pounds, where redshirt freshman Ryan Thomas nearly notched an upset of his own over No. 4 Kaleb Young, forcing yet another match into sudden victory. Young was able to get an escape in the second tiebreak to get the 5-4 decision. With the win, Iowa jumped out to a 24-6 advantage and clinched the dual. 

“You’d like to win those ones. You win those three tight ones, you turn it around and win five against the No. 1 team in the country,” Eggum said. “Those matches are three matches we need to turn around and we need to turn them around at the Big Ten [Championships].”

Iowa earned two more victories to close it out, getting a technical fall and a pin at 165 and 174 pounds. 

The Gophers will look to bounce back as they close out their regular season against Nebraska on Feb. 21. 

“The guys are doing a good job. It’s not an easy spot to wrestle in and I thought it really didn’t affect them overall,” Eggum said. “There’s little adjustments different guys need to make, but fortunately they’re not things that aren’t fixable.”