Top-seeded Gophers trying to repeat as conference champs

Minnesota has four top-seeded individual wrestlers at the Big Ten Championships.

Tyler Rushmeyer

The Minnesota wrestling team finished undefeated in regular-season conference play, but that means little this weekend as the Gophers’ 10 best hit the mat at the Big Ten Championships.

Earning four top seeds for the upcoming tournament, Minnesota, as a team, is the clear-cut favorite in a conference that includes 10 ranked teams.

Individually, the Gophers will look to top last year’s team record of five individual titles.

Aside from the four top seeds earned by redshirt Jayson Ness, sophomore Dustin Schlatter, junior Manuel Rivera and senior Cole Konrad, Minnesota also has four other wrestlers seeded in the top three.

For C.P. Schlatter, ranked No. 3 at 157 pounds, finally having a healthy and set lineup for the weekend is something that makes the Gophers the favorite as they try to defend their title.

“We’re very confident. Our seeds are higher this year and we’re not plateauing,” he said. “But just because we’re undefeated in the Big Ten right now means nothing.”

Not having wrestled for two weeks after wrapping up the regular season title, Minnesota will be wrestling in a non-dual meet format for the first time in over two months.

Junior Gabe Dretsch, ranked No. 4 nationally at 174, said while NCAA tournament qualifications are no doubt on every wrestler’s mind, the conference title is the ultimate goal of the weekend.

“The coaches have us ready both physically and mentally,” he said. “They’ve been putting us through the training cycle and going about it in a way where we’re not exhausted. We feel refreshed and at full strength.”

The lineup Minnesota will send out this weekend has been used only once throughout the course of the season, due to ineffective wrestling in specific weight classes and injuries.

Junior Mack Reiter, who took home the 2005 Big Ten title at 133 and sat out most of this season with a knee injury, said the team is in its best form of the season and anything less than the title would be a disappointment.

“Basically, we’re looking at taking home 10 titles,” he said. “Obviously that’s a big goal. But that’s the presence of mind we take into everything we do.”

After snapping Iowa’s 25-year monopoly of the conference crown in 1999, the Gophers have taken five of the last eight titles, finishing second in the other three.

Coach J Robinson, who has been at the helm for all of them, said the team cannot get overconfident or look ahead beyond the weekend.

“You need to take it one step at a time. Each match, each round. When we’re done with that, we move on,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is look ahead. When the Big Tens are done we can think about what’s next.”

With the NCAA tournament looming just two weeks ahead, Minnesota will look to send all 10 wrestlers to nationals, while taking home the team title.

Reiter said wrestling this weekend will be about individual standing along with picking up big points for the entire team in a tournament where the outcome is typically decided by a few points.

“If we only think about getting guys qualified, we’d be selling ourselves short,” he said. “We need to take every point we can. Get the major, the fall, whatever it takes to give us the final edge.”