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Published April 19, 2024

Gophers fall in a pair of Big Ten duals

Halfway through Friday’s wrestling match Minnesota assistant head coach Marty Morgan stood mat-side shouting “We need bonus points!”

It was the theme of the weekend for the No. 4 Gophers, who lost to No. 8 Illinois 19-17 on Friday night and to No. 13 Wisconsin 20-17 Sunday afternoon.

Wrestlers who usually deliver big bonus points struggled to expose their opponents’ backs and earned only four major decisions.

No. 3 Manuel Rivera was the only Gophers wrestler to turn his opponent all weekend; which is important to earning bonus points. He was 1-1, winning 16-5 over No. 11 Ryan Prater and losing to No. 6 Kyle Ruschel 1-6.

Head coach J Robinson said it’s difficult to turn good wrestlers, and the conservative wrestling style the Gophers faced made things tougher.

“The problem with wrestling is stalling is so subjective,” he said. “If people (referees) don’t force people to wrestle, it changes the complexity of the match.”

The Gophers (13-7 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) traded victories throughout both meetings, winning half the matches in each, and struggled to distance themselves. Early dominance has been a point of strength for the team this season.

No. 1 Jayson Ness extended his consecutive win streak to 33 with two dominating major decisions; 9-0 over No. 9 Gabe Flores of Illinois (12-2, 4-1) and 8-0 over No. 19 Collin Cudd of Wisconsin (13-4-1, 4-3).

Ness didn’t give up a single point over the weekend, but fell short of adding to his 18 pins even though he pinned Flores twice last season.

Ness said achieving the single-season pins record, which he is three shy of breaking, isn’t important to him, but was disappointed he couldn’t earn more points for the team.

No. 5 Mack Reiter couldn’t generate much offense and was upset in both his matches. He lost 0-6 to No. 9 Jimmy Kennedy and 1-5 to No. 11 Zach Tanelli.

Reiter has struggled against ranked opponents in February; he is now 0-4 against them since his loss to No. 3 Joe Slaton of Iowa.

“Everybody has their own little struggles,” Robinson said. “The object is to try to get rid of them in the next 2 to 3 weeks.”

Dustin Schlatter returned to the mat for the first time since Dec. 30. He earned two victories, one by major decision.

“I felt good,” he said. “I was pretty excited.”

In addition to starting slower than usual Minnesota also couldn’t put either team away late – in both meets they led with two matches left but couldn’t put either team away.

Robinson said the team failed to execute on the mat and didn’t find a way to win. He said the Gophers struggled to maintain their intensity throughout the matches.

“Some of these guys have to realize it’s a war out there,” Robinson said.

Minnesota now stands at 4-4 against the Big Ten this year. It is the first time the Gophers have dropped more than one dual meet against conference rivals since the 2004-05 season.

The Gophers also dropped to 0-4 at Williams Arena on the season; they are 2-0 in the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota has one dual meet remaining on their schedule before the Big Ten Tournament in Williams Arena on March 8-9.

Ness said he thinks the team still has time to turn things around and compete come tournament time.

“We’re just a couple matches away from winning it,” he said. “Obviously it didn’t go as we wanted to, but we just have to move on.”

Robinson said it will be important to get momentum going into the conference tournament.

“We keep telling them bonus points are important and they don’t pay any attention,” he said. “At some point they are going to have to decide to listen, or continue down the path they are going.”

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