The Minnesota wrestling team wasted no time proving to the nation why it’s on top again.
And based on its performance Sunday in a convincing 31-12 victory, it has plans to remain there.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Sports Pavillion
The top-ranked Gophers (12-1) rode an upset pin and the home crowd momentum to build a 19-3 advantage at the intermission and never looked back in defeating a tough opponent in Penn State, the 10th-ranked team in the country.
Coach J Robinson said the team has responded well throughout its tough schedule that has included eight of the top-10 teams in the country.
“Anytime you beat a top-10 team, it’s huge,” he said. “They wrestled hard, but again, we did what we needed to do to come out on top.”
The match began with the most anticipated battle of the afternoon, pitting Penn State junior Mark McKnight, ranked No. 2, against Minnesota redshirt freshman Jayson Ness (125).
After McKnight built a 4-2 advantage midway through the second period, Ness, ranked No. 5, responded in a big way with a pin at 4:55 to send the crowd of nearly 4,000 people into a frenzy and give the Gophers a big 6-0 advantage.
Ness said wrestling in front of the home crowd, which included many friends and family members, made the win that much more exciting.
“I tried to come out hard and break him and send an early message,” he said. “It shows the country that I belong with the best.”
Robinson said Ness’ position on the team is vital to its success.
“Two guys are especially important: the guy that opens and the guy that closes,” he said. “The opener sets the tone for the whole match, and Ness came through in a big way today.”
Next was freshman Mike Thorn (133), who struggled to a 14-7 loss to sophomore Jake Strayer, ranked No. 4 in the nation.
But thanks to the efforts of Minnesota’s 1-2-3 punch in No. 1 ranked Dustin Schlatter (149), No. 2 Manuel Rivera (141) and No. 3 C.P. Schlatter (157), along with Jeremy Larson’s (165) decision, the Gophers rattled off 16 straight points to gain a 22-3 advantage.
With the match well in hand, Penn State’s James Yonushonis eked out a close 3-2 decision over No. 12 Gabriel Dretsch (174).
And after No. 2 Roger Kish (184) pinned his opponent at 3:20, the Nittany Lions’ Phil Davis (187), No. 3, responded with a quick pin of his own at 1:36 to bring Minnesota’s lead margin to its lowest of the afternoon at 28-12.
Top-ranked heavyweight Cole Konrad stepped onto the mat next to do battle with fellow senior Aaron Anspach.
Seeking a school-best 59th straight victory, Conrad battled to a 3-1 decision win to give himself the record over Tim Hartung (1996-1999) and cap off Minnesota’s 12th straight dual meet triumph.
In regards to the record, Konrad said he doesn’t concern himself with them and referenced teammate Dustin Schlatter when discussing the record, who picked up his 52nd straight on the day.
“I don’t think about those things too much. Dustin will break it next year anyways,” he said. “More importantly, we started the Big Ten season with a huge statement.”
It was an impressive way to open the conference season for the top-ranked Gophers, but it doesn’t look to get much easier as the season progresses in the Big Ten, which has nine ranked teams.
Robinson said the team will need to retain its focus to keep its top ranking.
“Its easy to relax at the top Ö the hard part is getting there,” he said. “We can’t fall into any time of lull, because that’s when you fall.”