No. 1 versus No. 2. Check.
A sold-out arena. Check.
A rivalry matchup to close out the dual season. Check.
The matchup has been building, and now all that’s left are the actual matches.
No. 2 Minnesota will host No. 1 Penn State this weekend in a battle of Big Ten and NCAA powerhouses.
The Gophers wrestling team has lost only one dual this year — an upset loss to then-No. 19 Michigan. The Nittany Lions haven’t lost yet.
And this year, the matchup between familiar foes comes at a perfect time, as the teams sit not only atop the Big Ten rankings but atop the national rankings as well.
Minnesota knows it’ll be a tough task this weekend. And while it upset then-No. 2 Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, two weeks ago, the team isn’t getting too confident.
“This week, as with every week, it’s all about learning and growing,” head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “Win, lose or draw, we just have to learn from it and be ready to go in March.”
While this rivalry dual means something different to everybody, for the seniors it’s the last home dual of their careers.
Gophers redshirt junior Scott Schiller, currently ranked No. 1 at 197 pounds, said he’s excited for the seniors to have the opportunity to wrestle against the No. 1 team in the last dual of their careers.
“Your last home dual is always special,” he said. “This is the last time [the seniors] will get to experience this, and it being against the best team in the country — that really adds something to it.”
Senior Tony Nelson said after Sunday’s dual against Indiana that there will be an added fire this week against the Nittany Lions.
Though Schiller acknowledges the intensity that this match entails, he emphasized that preparation for this week’s dual is no different than any other.
“There would be no difference [in preparation] if it was me wrestling this guy or any other guy,” he said.
This dual will determine the No. 1 team in the nation heading into postseason wrestling, and it will also determine the regular-season Big Ten team champion.
And if that’s not enough, the dual itself will include several exciting matches, as eight of 10 are set to be between top-16 wrestlers, with five between top-10 wrestlers.
At 174 pounds, the Gophers’ Logan Storley will battle Penn State’s Matt Brown. Storley, who lost to Brown earlier this year, said he has regrets about the last couple of times they’ve matched up.
“Last time I wrestled him, I didn’t open up all the way,” the junior said. “I just need to open up and wrestle, and if I do that, I’ll have a good chance against him.”
Storley has a lot to prove for himself and could use a win to boost his ranking, but he noted the dual is all about showing the country what Minnesota is capable of.
“We have a lot to prove,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to show our fans — and the whole country — who the best team in the country is.”