Minnesota backed up its No. 1 NCAA ranking last weekend with a dominant win over Hofstra and five titles at the Bison Open.
This weekend offers no rest for a team in pursuit of its first national title since 2007.
The Gophers will make the nearly eight-hour trek to Lincoln, Neb., on Friday and travel back to host Boise State at home on Sunday afternoon.
“It will be tough, two duals in three days,” sophomore Logan Storley said.
The Gophers’ main focus will be on Nebraska, their first Big Ten opponent of the season. Nebraska is ranked ninth in the nation and will be a much tougher challenge than Hofstra.
“It’s good to get that out of the way right away,” Storley said of facing Nebraska. “Hofstra was a decent team, but now we’re wrestling a Big Ten team, so it’s a lot different.”
Minnesota assistant coach Brandon Eggum said it’s good to face a strong opponent early in the season because it shows areas that need improvement.
The Gophers didn’t find much room to improve against Hofstra, as it only lost two matches. Nick Dardanes lost at 141 pounds and Tom Giaimo lost at 149 pounds.
It won’t be so easy Friday.
Eggum said Nebraska boasts high talent in its middle to mid-upper weights, specifically at 149 to 184 pounds.
“They’ve got some guys in there that are very, very good,” he said, “but if we can get some good wins in that area, I think we can pull away with the dual.”
Kevin Steinhaus will face the Huskers’ Josh Ihnen in a rematch of the Big Ten title bout at 184 pounds last season.
Steinhaus won 3-1 in overtime at the Big Ten championships and used a single-leg takedown in the extra frame to win. He said his goal this year is to repeat as Big Ten champion and claim the national title at 184 pounds.
“If Steinhaus goes out and wrestles what he’s capable, then it doesn’t have to be a one-point match,” Eggum said.
Storley will also be involved in a match with an underlying story this weekend when he faces one of his childhood best friends, Robert Kokesh, at 174 pounds.
Storley claimed he’d treat this match like any other, but he hinted that bragging rights are on the line.
“I’m not going to look at it any differently,” he said. “I texted him a little bit, and we’re good friends, but I have to put that behind me for seven minutes on the mat this weekend.”
Storely busted onto the scene as a true freshman last season — a rarity for wrestlers at Minnesota — and finished sixth in the nation and second in the Big Ten behind NCAA champion Ed Ruth of Penn State.
Eggum said the Gophers will start Brad Dolezal at 157 pounds this weekend after Seth Lange filled the spot last weekend at Hofstra. Dolezal beat Lange head-to-head at the Bison Open, and Eggum said that determined the starter for this weekend.
“We’ll get a chance to watch him compete there, and hopefully he shows us something great,” Eggum said. “He’ll have a tough match [with] an All-American this weekend.”
Eggum added he’s looking for a big weekend from 197-pounder Scott Schiller, who he raved about early in the season.
“He’s a tough guy to compete against for seven minutes,” Eggum said.
Minnesota will return home from Nebraska on Saturday and work out before facing Boise State on Sunday.
Eggum said typically wrestlers like to compete in the evening, but he said the Sunday matinee with Boise State will serve its purpose later in the season.
“We’re going to start in the mornings with the Big Ten and NCAAs,” he said. “In some ways, maybe it’s good they get used to it right now.”
Storley said the team is focused for the weekend, but he still has a larger goal in mind — winning the NCAA championships.
“It’s good to test yourself early, [and] these results don’t really matter right now,” he said. “We’re looking for that end result in March.”