Omaha tournament is step up for young Minnesota squad

The Kaufman-Brand Open on Saturday is the Gophers’ second of three tournaments.

Matt Anderson

Despite fielding a young team and returning just one All-American from last season, Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson’s goals for this season remain as high as they could be: to win the Big Ten and national titles.

This weekend will provide insight into how far Minnesota has to go to achieve these goals when the team travels to Omaha, Neb., on Saturday to compete in the all-day Kaufman-Brand Open.

In Omaha, 700 wrestlers will compete in two divisions. The Gophers, ranked eighth in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, will have all their healthy wrestlers entered into either the 20-and-under bracket or the open bracket – except for All-American heavyweight Cole Konrad, who will be competing at a tournament Saturday at Augsburg College.

After capturing eight of 10 individual titles last weekend at the Bison Open in Fargo, N.D., the competition will stiffen Saturday. A number of top programs, including No. 3 Nebraska and No. 9 Iowa, have wrestlers entered into the field.

Robinson sees this weekend as a valuable early-season opportunity to gauge his team.

“It gives a more extensive outlook of where we are,” he said.

The five or six redshirt freshmen expected to be in the starting lineup this season will face a great deal of pressure, because they came into Minnesota as the most highly regarded recruiting class in school history.

“There’s always pressure, but this is such a prestigious recruiting class – they expect a lot from us,” said redshirt freshman Roger Kish, who went 4-0 in winning the 184-pound individual title in Fargo.

The Kaufman-Brand Open will provide an early measuring stick for these relatively unseasoned wrestlers.

“This is an important tournament for anyone, because it tests you,” Konrad said. “They’ll be wrestling kids who are as good as they’re going to be all year.”

In Omaha in 2003, Konrad took second place, and returning senior John Duncombe claimed fourth place in the open division at 184 pounds.

After a disappointing eighth-place finish at the NCAA tournament last year, the early part of this season looms especially important heading into the dual season, which begins Dec. 5.

“We want to come out and show last year was a fluke,” Konrad said, “and come out and get back what’s ours.”