Wrestlers unwind in preparation for Ohio St., Illinois

by Sarah Mitchell

The word “quit” is not easily found in a wrestler’s mind.
This week, however, the 2nd-ranked Gophers wrestling team is learning how to unwind.
In preparation for the team’s home dual meets this weekend, No. 7 Illinois on Friday and Ohio State on Saturday, Minnesota coach J Robinson eliminated the regular two-a-day team workouts to make time for more one-on-one coaching.
“You want to have a different week, but at the same time make a big push for the next three weeks,” Robinson said. “Some guys need to work on some technical things, others are getting time off and some just need help getting mentally focused.”
For the Gophers (11-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) starters, the week- long layoff means an opportunity to improve.
“Sometimes during practice you don’t get that one-on-one with the coaches. This has been a nice change of pace,” senior Chad Kraft said. “For me, I’ve been working on little things like movement on my feet.”
Working toward its second undefeated Big Ten season — Minnesota’s first was in 1952-53 — the Gophers were left with no down time last week, as they prepared to enter Carver-Hawkeye Arena and face No. 3 Iowa. But after knocking off the Hawkeyes 19-17, Minnesota should defeat the rest of the league’s middle-of-the-pack contenders, including Illinois and Ohio State.
Illinois (9-1, 3-1) enters Williams Arena coming off its first loss. The Illini were defeated at No. 10 Michigan 20-16 on Sunday.
“That’s kind of surprising,” Robinson said. “That just goes to show you, and I think (Illinois coach Mark Johnson) said it, too. If you’re not ready, any team can sneak up on you and slap you.”
Ohio State could be that team. The Buckeyes (9-6-1, 0-2-1), who finished 1-9 in the Big Ten last year, recently lost what Ohio State coach Russ Hellickson called “freshman standout” Keaton Anderson (141) for the season.
“Obviously we’re not the match for Minnesota, but in a couple of years we might be,” Buckeyes coach Russ Hellickson said. “They’re strong and we’re at the bottom of the Big Ten. We’ll probably stay there for the rest of the year.”
As the Buckeyes hold their ground at the bottom of conference standings, the Gophers remain steady at the top, along with Iowa. Kraft said off-weeks — and having the entire lineup show up at each dual meet — could push Minnesota ahead of the Hawkeyes.
“We want all 10 guys to compete at their ability,” Kraft said. “Right now I don’t think we’ve all wrestled our best on the same night.”