Wrestlers seek redemption at national duals

Minnesota might get the chance to avenge two losses from earlier this season.

Drew Claussen

The Gophers wrestling team had three losses in duals this season. On Sunday it will get a chance to avenge at least one of those.

“I definitely think that’s a high motivator for us as a team,” Cody Yohn (165 pounds) said. “Having the fact that it’s more or less a shot at redemption to beat these teams that we know we can beat.”

Minnesota (12-3, 7-1 Big Ten) will get a rematch with Iowa in the first round of the National Wrestlers Coaching Association National Duals final four. Iowa hosted the Gophers in late January and beat them 19-17.

If Minnesota can take down the Hawkeyes, it will wrestle the winner of Oklahoma State–Illinois.

OSU also defeated Minnesota earlier in the season. The Cowboys are the top-ranked team in the final four.

Each team won its respective regional of the tournament last weekend and will advance to the tournament’s first final four on Sunday.

In previous years the national duals were a midseason tournament that featured wrestlers from Divisions I, II and III.

“I think it’s great — I like how it’s a tournament setup with different stages,” senior captain Zach Sanders (125) said. “It’s kind of neat how things are changing compared to how they used to be at national duals in Northern Iowa in the UNI Dome, and it was just jam-packed with every level of wrestler — It was just kind of a zoo almost.”

There was originally talk that Minnesota might host the final four at Williams Arena if it made it that far, but instead Oklahoma State will host it at Gallagher-Iba Arena — despite the fact that three teams in the final four are from the Big Ten and located in the Midwest.

“I try not to let that be a factor; some things are just out of your control,” Yohn said. “I definitely think it was a poor job on the founders of the national duals final four to locate it in Stillwater, [Okla.] when you have three Midwest teams that are all specifically Big Ten teams when they could have put it in such a neutral location like Minneapolis and that fan base I believe would have been bigger here.

“It would have been nice to have our fans — but that’s out of our control.”

Yohn went 2-0 last Saturday to break out of about a month-long slump that he had been in.

“I was struggling, and some stuff wasn’t going my way,” Yohn said. “The little things that I took away I think helped me regroup and get my feet back on the ground. Now I’m motivated and ready to compete again; you can’t really live in the past.”

Sanders will get another shot at Iowa’s Matt McDonough, who dealt Sanders his only loss of the season so far. Sunday will be the second of four potential meetings between the two this year — they have a possibility of squaring off at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

McDonough has been Sanders’ kryptonite throughout his career and owns a 5-0 career record against the Minnesota wrestler.

“I haven’t beat him yet,” Sanders said. “I’m not feeling any pressure because I’ve never beat him — I’ve just got to go out there and battle, you know, try and figure him out.

“It should be fun,” he added. “These big matches make wrestling way more fun than if you’re just killing everybody.”

The Gophers lost four of the first five matches in the team’s first tussle with Iowa. Sanders, Chris Dardanes (133) and Nick Dardanes (141) have all gone 3-0 since their losses to their Iowa opponents.

Minnesota lost both matches at 157 pounds last weekend, where Alec Ortiz and Danny Zilverberg split time. Assistant head coach Brandon Eggum said that he expects both wrestlers to do the same this weekend.

Ortiz was the replacement when Jake Deitchler retired earlier this season because of recurring concussions. Zilverberg is returning from his own concussion injury. Zilberberg said he has no problem with splitting time at the position.

“[Ortiz] has had the spot all year,” Zilverberg said. “He’s done a great job — I’m happy just to be wrestling again.”