Minnesota headed to Penn State for Big Ten championships

Head assistant coach Joe Russell describes the Big Ten wrestling tournament as a âÄúmeat grinder.âÄù With so many highly ranked wrestlers, every match is a âÄúgrind,âÄù and it can be taxing both mentally and physically. Russell has seen Big Ten champions fall early the following week at the national championships, and heâÄôs seen it go the other way too. âÄúYouâÄôll have a guy take seventh in the Big Tens and the next week heâÄôs in the national finals,âÄù Russell said. âÄúThatâÄôs how crazy the tournament is.âÄù The Minnesota wrestlers will see first-hand âÄì and most for the first time âÄì just how crazy the Big Ten tournament can be when they compete in the championships this weekend. Session I begins Saturday at 10 a.m. and the championship matches take place Sunday at 1 p.m. in University Park, Penn. An uncharacteristically inexperienced team will take the mat at Penn State. Seven of the GophersâÄô ten wrestlers will be making their first appearance at the Big Ten tournament. As one of the few veterans, junior Jayson Ness is looking forward to seeing how they perform. âÄúItâÄôll be fun to watch them react to their first Big Ten tournament,âÄù Ness said. Zach Sanders, one of three redshirt freshman wrestling for Minnesota, isnâÄôt thinking too much about the prestige of the tournament. âÄúIâÄôm excited to go and compete but I still feel pretty relaxed, like IâÄôm just going to another tournament,âÄù he said Thursday, before the team departed Minneapolis. âÄúOnce we arrive IâÄôm sure the excitement level will pick up a little bit.âÄù Sanders might be relaxed, but he and the team are preparing more intently than ever. âÄúYouâÄôve got to prepare better,âÄù he said. âÄúLike go to bed early, do little stuff like that.âÄù With five of ten weight classes boasting the top-ranked wrestler, the Gophers will need to be in peak physical and mental condition. âÄúItâÄôs important that they get there and feel big and strong and rested so they can have their best performance,âÄù Russell said. âÄúYou want to make sure youâÄôre pushing them but you want to make sure theyâÄôre in a position to go out there and excel.âÄù Especially needing to excel this weekend are redshirt freshman Sonny Yohn at 184 and junior Gordon Bierschenk at 197. Both men are on the bubble of being one of the top 33 wrestlers at each class that receive an invitation to the national tournament. A strong showing will almost surely bump them into the field. âÄúTheyâÄôve got to put together a good tournament,âÄù Russell said, âÄúbut thereâÄôs not a guy on the team that doesnâÄôt have a shot at making the national tournament.âÄù