Minnesota will look to its seniors in effort to repeat

A host of seniors and a redshirt freshmen heavyweight will lead the No. 1 Gophers.

Mark Remme

Last season, the Minnesota wrestling team strolled into the Northeast Duels in Albany, N.Y., in late November and dropped a one-point decision to No. 11 Hofstra.

That Nov. 25 was the last time the Gophers lost a meet.

With that in mind, a strong returning crew of Minnesota wrestlers will revisit the mat this season with accolades and defenses on the line across the board.

The Gophers won the Big Ten championship last year and followed it up with their third NCAA title since 2001. As defending champions, Minnesota immediately is in the eye of national contenders across the nation like Oklahoma State.

But perhaps the most difficult part of Minnesota’s title defense will be within its own conference.

The Gophers top virtually every national preseason poll, but the likes of Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State are generally in or near the top ten.

Having the momentum of a national championship season might be what keeps Minnesota afloat against what should be a ruthless conference schedule, according to junior Dustin Schlatter.

“It kind of propels us into the next year,” Schlatter said. “We’re all in the right frame of mind. It’s a feeling that we want to repeat.”

Certainly there are question marks, and none are bigger than who will replace the big man who anchored the Gophers’ success over the past four years.

Big Ten male Athlete of the Year Cole Konrad graduated and departed from Minnesota after a 2006-07 campaign in which he was Big Ten and NCAA champion. He went 35-0 as a senior and is second behind Ed Giese in the school’s all-time victories category with 155.

Two redshirt freshmen are looking to take his place.

“In the heavyweight, everyone’s waiting to figure out what’s going to happen with Joe Nord and Ben Berhow,” assistant coach Marty Morgan said. “Just watching them over the last year, they’ve improved greatly.”

Morgan said the coaching staff is going to leave it up to how the two compete against early competition to see who will solidify the role.

Other areas of the team are relatively set in stone as five seniors bolster different weight classes.

Having such a strong returning class of upperclassmen is what senior Manuel Rivera said will help solidify the loss of a sound leader in Konrad.

This senior class came in regarded as one of the finest recruiting classes Minnesota has ever seen.

They’re the crew brought in by coach J Robinson after the Gophers won back-to-back national championships in 2001 and 2002.

Considering they’ve grown in the system and helped retrieve another NCAA title last season, Robinson said it’s time for this season’s team to do exactly what the 2002 group did: Prove last year wasn’t a fluke.

He said it’s one thing to compete as an underclassman, but it’s a whole new situation when you’re trying to win as a senior.

The pressure to go out a winner becomes prominent, and Rivera acknowledged that the clock is ticking before time runs out. He said he senses it.

That statement, perhaps, is another reason why Robinson and his slew of proven veterans feel confidence heading into a complicated trail toward a repeat.

“There is a deadline (for these seniors),” Robinson said. “It’s over. It brings an urgency that isn’t there when you’re a freshman or sophomore. There is no next year.”