Defending champs start title defense in North Dakota for Bison Open

Minnesota not only looks to win the meet, their focus is on winning all 10 titles.

Mark Remme

Considering the Minnesota wrestling team finished off 2006-07 with a perfect Big Ten season and a national championship, the top-ranked Gophers’ trip to Fargo this weekend might seem like a low-key exhibition.

Minnesota will face the likes of North Dakota State, St. John’s and Minnesota State-Moorhead, quite a difference from the national powerhouses the Gophers took on the last time they hit the mats.

But coming into the season as defending NCAA champs and harboring exceeding expectations of a repeat means starting out the year at the Bison Open Saturday at 10 a.m. is exactly where team members feel they should start.

“This first weekend is crucial, regardless of the opponents,” junior Dustin Schlatter said. “You’ve got to have a tournament like this to start off to see where you’re at.”

It’s a process, he said, of figuring out how each person improved his technique since last season’s title run.

“It’s a way to see how everything you’ve been working on in the summer and offseason is clicking – see how it’s all coming together,” he said.

The Gophers have been on a training cycle for the last six weeks, according to assistant coach Marty Morgan, and the event this weekend in Fargo might help gauge what each wrestler needs to do to increase production throughout the year.

Because it’s not just about winning at the Bison Open. Senior Manuel Rivera said it’s about making a statement and getting elevated results.

The stakes might be a little higher because of it.

“I think it comes down to not so much the wins, the ‘Ws,’ but the performance,” Rivera said. “Make sure guys are feeling good and beating guys as bad as they can. It’s more about not beating a guy by two points, but beating them by 10 points or pinning them.”

With lofty goals of dominance in mind, Rivera said he’d like to see Gophers in all 10 weight classes win titles this weekend in Fargo.

Considering they won eight last year at the Bison Open and are returning everyone but senior Cole Konrad, the goal is seemingly feasible.

“We need to get there and get the season started right with a bunch of wins for everyone,” Rivera said. “Start rolling from there.”