Michigan trip next for No. 1 wrestlers

Anthony Maggio

On the heels of last weekend’s dominance at the National Duals in Columbus, Ohio, Minnesota’s wrestling team travels to Michigan for two dual meets this weekend.

The defending national champion Gophers face sixth-ranked Michigan on Friday night in Ann Arbor, then travel to East Lansing to take on 13th ranked Michigan State.

Minnesota (11-0) dropped the Wolverines (9-2) in the semi-final round of the National Duals last Saturday, losing only two matches en route to a 26-6 victory.

“We took the fight to them (last weekend),” coach J Robinson said. “They’re going to try to take it away from us, so it’s going to be a battle.”

In all eight victories Saturday over Michigan, the Gophers scored the first takedown.

The Wolverines know Friday’s meet must be different if they aim to defeating the nation’s top team.

“They beat us to the punch in almost every match,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “They set the tempo in every one of those matches and that’s what my guys need to understand.

“Minnesota went out there ready to wrestle and we just didn’t start with the kind of intensity those guys started with.”

Both teams know capturing the momentum early is key ñ meaning pressure rests on the shoulders of the lightweights.

Michigan boasts a pair of eighth-ranked grapplers at 125 and 133 pounds in A.J. Grant and Foley Dowd, respectively.

But Leroy Vega (125) and Ryan Lewis (133) are ranked second and first in their weight classes, and both came out victorious against the Wolverines last weekend.

“Those first three weight classes always set a tone for the match,” Robinson said. “Those get us momentum, those get us rockin’ and rolling,.”

On Friday, Minnesota will face Michigan on its home mat instead of a neutral site. But the Gophers showed in Columbus that hostile crowds aren’t an issue.

In fact, they’re welcomed.

“Michigan usually has pretty big crowds,” Minnesota’s Chad Erikson said. “But I think we wrestle well when we’re under pressure. We like to step it up and shut those fans up.”

The Gophers will likely face more of a challenge from the Wolverines on Friday than the Spartans on Sunday.

Although Michigan State is a ranked opponent, the Spartans are 3-3 on the season and dropped two of the three duals they participated in at National Duals.

“They’re down some this year,” Robinson said. “They’re struggling a little bit. So, it’s something that you don’t want to overlook, but at the same time you don’t want to get sky high for it either.”

The Gophers took a slightly different, if not subdued approach in their preparation this week for the upcoming duals.

“We’re kind of laid back a little bit,” Robinson said. “It’s not that we’re not taking it very seriously, because we are, but we just want to relax a little mentally after the National Duals to get ready for Iowa.”

Minnesota faces Iowa in what has been dubbed “The Border Brawl” next Thursday at the Target Center, and Iowa is currently the third-ranked team in the country.

Although the Gophers are already anticipating Iowa’s arrival, they remain focused on the task at hand. The Gophers continue to come out with more conviction and focus every meet ñ leaving opponents with little margin for error.

“That’s why Minnesota is the best team in the country,” McFarland said. “They’re coming out with a lot of confidence and they’re coming at you. We need to come out with the same intensity.”