Injury-ridden Gophers head into last stretch of season

No. 19 Owen Webster, Bobby Steveson and Steve Bleise are all currently sidelined for the Big Ten championships.

Bobby Steveson takes on Sammy Brooks of Iowa at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 5. 2017.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Bobby Steveson takes on Sammy Brooks of Iowa at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 5. 2017.

Owen Mageau

Minnesota has fought through numerous injuries en route to an 7-6 overall record.

Going in to the dual against Rider, Minnesota has yet to have its first-team wrestlers in action at the same time. That won’t change on Sunday. 

No. 19 Owen Webster, Bobby Steveson and Steve Bleise are all currently sidelined. Gophers head coach Brandon Eggum wants his team to bring a strong effort no matter who is in the lineup. 

“I’d like to see the guys continue to wrestle aggressive[ly] like they have been,” Eggum said. “I’ve loved the way they have been starting matches, [they have] scored a lot of first takedowns and that intensity is very important. … If you get a chance to step in the lineup, we expect those same things from you.”

Minnesota’s record has positioned them as the No. 19-ranked team in the country heading in to their last regular-season dual. The Gophers matchup with Rider is their last tune-up before the Big Ten championships begin on March 3. 

The 2016-17 Gophers had seven ranked starters heading into their last match of the season. That group was headlined by then-No. 2 Brett Pfarr at 197. This year’s team has just five current starters in the top 20 of their respective weights and only two in the top 10. 

Junior Ethan Lizak is the highest ranked wrestler on the Gophers this year. He currently is positioned as the No. 8 wrestler in the nation at 125. Lizak has compiled a 20-4 overall record and a 10-3 dual record this season. In doing so, he has gone 5-4 against ranked opponents and compiled four pins, six tech falls and four major decision victories. 

“Ethan has been great, he’s had his ups and downs, but I like the way that he’s wrestling right now,” Eggum said. 

Minnesota is hoping to have Bleise back for Friday’s dual. He traveled with the team during last weekend’s road trip; however, he wasn’t ready to see action on the mat. If he can’t go against Rider, Eggum said, he will be ready for the Big Ten championships. The coach doesn’t envision any of the other injured starters being back before then. The group Minnesota has now is basically the group they will head into the post season with. Minnesota needs wrestlers to step up.

“I try to lead by example, being at every practice, every workout and giving it my all, people see that and they work harder too,” Chris Pfarr said.