Grapplers approaching undefeated season

by Sarah Mitchell

The second-ranked Gophers wrestling team is poised to go undefeated this season in Big Ten action — if it can survive two road duals this weekend.
Minnesota (16-2 overall, 7-0 in the Big Ten) last accomplished this feat during the 1952-53 season and only No. 15 Purdue and No. 18 Northwestern can prevent the perfect conference standing.
Either way, Minnesota will still be the favorite at the Mar. 6-7 Big Ten championships. But Gophers coach J Robinson said an unblemished league record would be a confidence booster for his team.
“It tells our guys how good we are,” Robinson said. “It convinces our guys, it makes them believe in the program.”
Before the Gophers can bask in the glory of fending off all of their Big Ten foes, they must defeat Purdue on Friday and Northwestern on Sunday. While the Gophers have burned closer ranked opponents, including a 22-9 victory over No. 4 Nebraska on Sunday, the team is still on guard.
“We have to worry about this weekend,” Robinson said. “We want to take another step forward. We’re going in the right direction, but we want to make some more progress.”
The 15th-ranked Boilermakers (15-4-1, 3-2-1) are approaching Friday’s dual meet differently. Purdue coach Jessie Reyes said that his team will take advantage of facing a high-caliber team, using it as a warm-up for the conference championships.
“This has been just like any other week,” Reyes said. “We’re looking for the opportunity to upset Minnesota, but we know that they’ve been rolling over higher-ranked teams.”
Reyes said he would like to see the meet open at the 125 pound weight class, a match pitting Gophers freshman Leroy Vega against Jason Silverstein. Like Vega, Silverstein redshirted last season, but has been successful in his first season, with an overall record of 25-6.
The battle at 174 pounds also intrigued Reyes. Gophers junior Delaney Berger reinjured his shoulder two weekends ago against Ohio State and won’t be cleared to wrestle until the Big Ten championships. With freshman Matt Kraft filling in, Reyes expects Boilermakers James Crnich to pick up his 24th win of the season.
“We have good match-ups, but they’re only good if you wrestle,” Reyes said. “We want to control the mat area, go for more scoring and be stingy on defense. We want to make the other team pay for their bad shots. The key is not to be intimidated.”
The Gophers have put the fear factor out there, though. Minnesota has beaten the Big Ten’s former powerhouse, No. 3 Iowa, twice this season and expects to prevent the Hawkeyes from claiming the Big Ten title for the 26th consecutive year. Remaining flawless in conference standings is a good start.
“Roles are changing. We’re the team that knocked off Iowa,” senior Josh Holiday said. “We’re coming into our own dynasty.”