Schiller, upper weights lead Gophers into Big Ten contention

Minnesota’s four upper weights haven’t lost since early January and went undefeated in the conference season.

Minnesotas Scott Schiller holds down Michigan States Luke Jones on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Scott Schiller holds down Michigan State’s Luke Jones on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Dane Mizutani

Scott Schiller will compete in his first Big Ten tournament this weekend in Champaign, Ill.

Schiller, a redshirt sophomore from West Fargo, N.D., has been key to the Gophers’ success this season, his first as a starter.

He has been a main cog in Minnesota’s four-person anchor to dual meets.

The Gophers’ four upper weights — Logan Storley, Kevin Steinhaus, Schiller and defending NCAA champion Tony Nelson — have not lost since the Southern Scuffle in early January.

“They’ve got to be rolling now in terms of confidence,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said of his upper weights, “but they’ve got to throw away their records and be confident in what they’ve done this season.

“If they do that … then we’re going to do great.”

Schiller has lost three times all season at 197 pounds and is undefeated in the Big Ten.

He won three state titles at West Fargo High School but didn’t have an immediate impact in college. He redshirted his first year with the Gophers, as many of the freshmen do, and sat behind All-American wrestler Sonny Yohn last season.

Eggum spoke very highly of Schiller before the season, and he said Wednesday that Schiller has lived up to expectations.

“We knew he was going to be great,” Eggum said, “but at some point he had to believe it himself. I think he’s starting to realize that he is better than these guys he’s competing against.”

Eggum said it’s a luxury to have the four upper weights at the back of the lineup to generate crucial points in dual competitions.

But this weekend, Schiller will no longer be able to watch Steinhaus wrestle at 184 pounds and then sit back and watch Nelson close out a match at heavyweight.

The Gophers were champions at the National Duals two weeks ago, but now the focus shifts to individual competitions.

In both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, wrestlers are on their own throughout the meet.

“You almost have to be selfish in a sense that you need to worry about yourself and your match,” said Schiller, the No. 2 seed at 197 pounds.

Schiller said the change allows him to be secluded before his match, which he prefers.

“I like to stay … behind the scenes and not involved in all the matches before me,” he said. “It keeps me more focused in a way.

Schiller attended the Big Ten tournament last year but didn’t participate.

“It will be a new experience, but I’m trying not to really psych myself up too much,” he said. “I know the environment of the Big Ten tournament, so it should be OK.”

Minnesota has faced nearly every school in the Big Ten this season but not Penn State, the defending champion.

A few Gophers wrestlers matched up with opponents from Penn State at the Southern Scuffle, but the Nittany Lions’ full team will pose a new threat for the Gophers this weekend.

Schiller lost to the Penn State 197-pounder Quentin Wright at the Southern Scuffle. He said he thinks the loss helped because it kept him motivated the rest of the season.

Schiller’s teammate, sophomore Nick Dardanes, said he is not worried about his upper-weight teammates this weekend.

“Those guys are tough,” he said. “I’m not worried. They know how to take care of business and have done it all season for us.”

Though the team element is mostly eliminated at the Big Ten and NCAA meets, Schiller still has his focus on the team. He said he feels like he’s starting to peak and the team is following suit.

“We wrestled well at National Duals, but that’s over, and we’re still getting better from that,” he said. “We’ll get better at Big Tens and hopefully hit our peak at the NCAAs.”