Rise and wrestle: Sun comes up, Gophers practice

A 6:45 a.m. workout Monday was not punishment, just a literal wake-up call after two losses.

Aaron Blake

About 14 and a half hours after Minnesota’s wrestling team lost to Purdue on Sunday, the Gophers were back at it, figuring things out during a rare early-morning practice.

And following the short and intense 6:45 a.m. runthrough, coach J Robinson sat his team down and explained that he wasn’t disciplining them for losing to two historically weaker Big Ten teams that weekend.

They just might believe him.

“J talked to us about 15 minutes after our workout and said he’s not mad at us, and we’re not coming in for punishment,” 141-pound starter Tommy Owen said. “He told us a few stories about teams he’s been on that have been real down like this. What he’s doing is helping us work through it, not for punishment.”

The early practices were a response to the struggles that have plagued the 15th-ranked Gophers (7-6, 1-3 Big Ten) for the past three weeks.

The team reached a valley this past weekend, losing to Wisconsin on Friday and the Boilermakers on Sunday. Neither team finished above .500 in the Big Ten last season.

“How much worse can it get?” Robinson said after Sunday’s match. “You lose to two teams that historically are at the bottom of the Big Ten in one weekend because your guys don’t fight. It’s brutally honest, but it’s honest.”

So Robinson began bright and early Monday, trying to put some of that fight and intensity back into his wrestlers.

Mostly, though, he might have needed the extra practice to figure something out about his team.

“He told us he’s a little bit disappointed and frustrated,” Owen said. “But it’s not so much frustration as trying to find out what the problem is.

“Something’s not going right on our team.”

Owen said his coach thought the team might be cutting weight too hard and paying for it during matches. So practices are shorter and more explosive instead of long and grueling.

The team currently starts three freshmen and six wrestlers who didn’t see much action last season, and redshirt freshman heavyweight Cole Konrad admitted that some of the younger wrestlers were struggling to make weight.

But for Robinson, the bottom line for his team is putting everything else behind them when they hit the mat.

“In this sport, you’re not going to feel good,” Robinson said Sunday. “You’re going to get down. It’s going to be hard cutting weight. But you’ve got to make it anyway, and right now they’re letting all those other things get in their way.

“All the talk in the world ain’t going to change anything anymore. At some point in time, they’re going to have to change.”

And, apparently, a slight change in their sleep schedule is step one.

Volkmann could wrestle

Robinson said Tuesday that 165-pound All-American Jacob Volkmann could potentially wrestle this weekend.

The coaches will decide whether he will travel with the team on Thursday and figure out on the road whether he’ll compete. Robinson said Volkmann will “probably” travel with the team.