Big individual matchups highlight big dual

David McCoy

You’ve heard the terms before.

Whenever a great matchup takes place in sports, one is nearly guaranteed to hear it referred to as a “clash of the titans,” or perhaps an “epic battle,” or possibly even a “historic showdown.”

Maybe they should just start calling it “Minnesota v. Oklahoma State.”

When it comes to wrestling, there’s hardly been a bigger or better rivalry in the past several years than that between the Gophers and Cowboys.

“In this match, every matchup counts,” Minnesota’s Dustin Schlatter said. “Whether you get the bonus points, one bonus point or a win, it’s going to affect the outcome of the match.”

Over the past seven years, the Cowboys have accomplished an incredible 117-12-1 record. Half of those losses have come at the hands of Minnesota. During that same period, Minnesota was 111-23, with three losses to Oklahoma State.

Minnesota (18-0) and Oklahoma State (13-1) have won the past five NCAA Championships. And it was Oklahoma State that the Gophers beat earlier this year in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to capture the National Duals crown.

With a 21-14 win Jan. 15, then-No. 2 Minnesota knocked off the previously top-ranked Cowboys and moved into the nation’s top spot, where it has remained for the rest of the season.

Oklahoma State gets one more crack at getting it back at 2 p.m. Sunday in Oklahoma City, and Gophers third-ranked 133-pounder Mack Reiter knows this time will be different.

“They’re coming in with a little more to win here, a little more to gain,” Reiter said of the Cowboys, who perhaps underestimated Minnesota the first time around. “It’s going to be a harder fought match, but it’s not like we’re going to take the attitude that we’re unbeatable because all of the sudden we’re undefeated. We’re going in there with the exact same attitude as we had last time.”

Reiter’s match with No. 2 Nathan Morgan is just one of many “epic battles” that will take place Sunday.

Reiter is 0-2 against Morgan in his career, but believes if he can limit Morgan’s first period scoring, he’ll put himself in a position to score the win.

“It seems like every one of my matches going out of the first period I’m down 4-1,” Reiter said. “It sucks, trying to come back. I’m obviously going into that first period trying to score points, but if I come out of that first period 0-0, I definitely think I have the upper hand.”

Reiter, who sat out Minnesota’s duals with Wisconsin and Indiana last weekend with a skin infection in his right thigh, practiced with the team in its first practice of the week Wednesday.

Reiter ” ranked third at 133 ” said the infection put him in the hospital most of Jan. 31, but he’ll be on the mat Sunday.

“I’m pretty healthy, I’ll be all right,” Reiter said. “I’ll be 100 percent by Sunday. If I’m not, I’ll be close. But once the adrenaline starts going, I won’t feel a thing; I’ll be all right.”

While Reiter’s health surely will benefit Minnesota, Oklahoma State 141-pounder Daniel Frishkorn has only about a 50-50 shot at wrestling Sunday, which could end up swinging crucial points Minnesota’s way in the tight dual.

But, even if healthy, Frishkorn has been struggling lately and has lost to Minnesota’s Manuel Rivera twice already this season.

The 149 matchup pits top-ranked Schlatter against third-ranked and defending national champion Zack Esposito. Schlatter beat Esposito 8-7 at National Duals to propel Minnesota’s momentum.

Schlatter said he’s eager to do it again.

“I think the first time, most people didn’t think I was going to win,” Schlatter said. “I was the underdog. And I think, even though I beat him, this time I’m coming in as the underdog. I’ve just got to prove to everyone that it’s not a fluke, and that I’m the better wrestler.”

The three-straight matches at 133, 141 and 149 will be some of the most crucial for Minnesota. But while almost all the matches are sure to be tight, none should fit the classic “clash of the titans” billing more than the heavyweight match between Minnesota’s top-ranked Cole Konrad and second-ranked Steve Mocco.

After pinning Mocco to seal the win at National Duals, Konrad said he expects Mocco to shoot more, which could potentially open up the scoring.

And any scoring ” specifically in respect to bonus points ” will be vital if Minnesota wants to keep its unbeaten record intact. A win would tie the best unbeaten mark in school history, matching the 19-0 dual record set by the 2000-2001 national champion Gophers.

But even if it loses Sunday’s “historic showdown” and fails to remain unbeaten, Minnesota knows that doesn’t have to stop it from reaching the 2000-2001 team’s other accomplishment ” the national title.

“It’s a good dual and obviously we want to win, but our season doesn’t matter on this dual,” Reiter said. “We’re training for the Big Tens and NCAAs. This is something that would be great to win, because everyone wants to win everything you can. It would hurt (to lose), but it ain’t going to hurt our season.

“We’re undefeated right now. But we would rather go 0-18 and win the Big Ten and NCAAs than 18-0 and not win either.”