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Two upsets lead to third-place National Duals finish

Heading into this weekend’s NCWA National Duals in Cleveland, Minnesota’s wrestling team was in danger of falling into a deep early-season hole, having dropped its past two dual meets and competing in a tournament featuring seven of the top 10 teams in the nation.

Instead, the team built itself a molehill.

Eighth-ranked Minnesota started the second half of its season by making some serious noise at National Duals, upsetting No. 2 Michigan and No. 5 Lehigh en route to a third-place finish at one of the nation’s premier tournaments.

In Sunday’s third-place match, Lehigh led Minnesota 14-13 heading into the final two bouts before Lehigh’s Jon Trenge, ranked third at 197 pounds, was disqualified for hitting Matt Koz in the forehead.

Koz was also reprimanded, resulting in the loss of one team point for Minnesota.

The disqualification gave Minnesota (6-4) an 18-14 lead, and when Lehigh forfeited the heavyweight match to

No. 2 Cole Konrad, Minnesota claimed a 24-14 victory and third place in the tournament.

“I went up there to wrestle smart,” Koz said. “I could especially see (frustration) in his face.”

Minnesota jumped to a 9-3 lead after four bouts then lost three matches in a row before eighth-ranked Roger Kish won a major decision against Matt Cassidy at 184 pounds to get the Gophers within one point at 14-13 before the Trenge disqualification.

“I think we took a big step forward as a team,” assistant coach Joe Russell said. “Guys stepped up, and we definitely made some progress as a team.”

Konrad was the standout wrestler of the tournament for Minnesota, going 5-0 with a pin and clinching victories in the final bout three times – twice against No. 7 Bill Stouffer of Central Michigan and once over No. 3 Greg Wagner to secure an upset of Michigan.

“I think it definitely motivates you when you know you need a win to get the dual,” Konrad said. “I like it when I know I can control the outcome of our dual.”

Minnesota defeated No. 12 Central Michigan 20-18 in the first round and Michigan 21-16 in the quarterfinals before falling to No. 3 Illinois 20-15 in the semifinals Saturday.

Minnesota rebounded Sunday morning to again beat Central Michigan in the consolation bracket before downing Lehigh.

Minnesota, seeded sixth for the tournament, scored its first big dual win of the year against third seed Michigan in the quarterfinals.

The Gophers trailed the Wolverines 16-12 before winning the final three bouts to take the victory.

Jon Duncombe, who was wrestling for the first time since the Southern Scuffle on Dec. 29, earned three key points in his second career start at 197 pounds to give Minnesota an 18-16 lead before Konrad sealed the win.

Another wrestler who returned to the mat after an extended period off the bout sheet was junior Tommy Owen.

Owen made his first starts of the year at 141 pounds and went 3-2 at a weight class in which Minnesota had won just once in five previous duals.

With Owen shoring up the 141-pound spot in the Gophers lineup, the team has begun to become stronger top to bottom.

“I think we wrestled well,” Konrad said. “We’re finally starting to wrestle as a team.”

Lowe defeated

Bobbe Lowe, ranked fourth at 125 pounds, suffered his first defeat of the year to No. 2 Kyle Ott of Illinois 3-2 in the semifinal match. He followed that with a 9-8 loss to No. 12 Luke Smith of Central Michigan in a consolation match.

Lowe defeated Andrew Rizzi in the third-place match to finish the tournament 3-2.

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