Gophers to face Big Ten foes at invite

Minnesota will be competing in a 39- team field at the Cliff Keen Invite.

Danny Chen

Coming off a victory against top-10 Oklahoma State, the wrestling team will look to continue its momentum as it heads to the Cliff Keen Invitational.

Among the 39 teams competing alongside Minnesota in the two-day event are Big Ten foes Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska.

Head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said his team knows all of the Big Ten schools very well, but it also expects to see different lineups at the invitational.

“There will be some new faces in their lineups, so we will have some new matchups,” Eggum said. “It’s really nice to have an opportunity to wrestle all of these [Big Ten] teams early in the season. You can make some adjustments and learn from those matches, and then go from there.”

Due to the tournament’s large size, the Gophers will travel to Las Vegas this weekend with 15 wrestlers.

Other than some new faces, many well-established wrestlers will also be competing at the invitational for Big Ten rival schools.

Those wrestlers include Adam Coon of Michigan and Logan Stieber from Ohio State.

Last year as a true freshman for Michigan, Coon won his first 23 college matches as a heavyweight and was ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season.

Gophers redshirt sophomore Michael Kroells, Minnesota’s heavyweight, wrestled against Coon several times in high school.

“Last time I wrestled him was my senior year in high school in Fargo,” Kroells said. “He ended up beating me in a close match. [But] he has always been a tough competitor, and we have always been around the same weight, battling back and forth. He’s a tough guy for sure.”

Depending on the seed meeting before the invitational, which will take place Thursday, Kroells might have a chance to wrestle Coon again.

Ohio State’s Stieber has won the NCAA championship for the past three years, and Minnesota redshirt senior Nick Dardanes  had the chance to wrestle him during the offseason last year.

In the Las Vegas/ASICS U.S. Open, Dardanes and Stieber were tied 6-6 before Stieber eventually won the match.

Dardanes said he has faced Stieber four times now, and each time the margin between them gets smaller.

Like Kroells, Dardanes doesn’t know yet whether he’ll face Stieber in the invitational.

But he’s prepared either way.

“I’m for sure going to watch some film,” Dardanes said. “I know what he does. He is really good on top, and you know, he is a three-time national champ. But I have improved, and facing Stieber would set the tone for the rest of the season.”