Key wrestlers set to return as Gophers grapple at home

Wisconsin and Purdue come to town for a pair of Big Ten wrestling matches.

by Aaron Blake

National champion 197-pounder Damion Hahn and 141-pound starter Tommy Owen are both set to return to the lineup this weekend for Minnesota’s wrest-ling team.

Now all the 12th-ranked Gophers need to reacquire, their coach said, is some semblance of continuity in their performances.

“There are a lot of things that we’re working on,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “We’re working on cutting weight, and we’re going to individual practices more. We just want that consistency, because we’re still aiming for the end of the year. That’s what we have to work for.”

The Gophers (7-4, 1-1 Big Ten) have just seven duals remaining before the postseason begins. They look at this weekend’s matches at Williams Arena with midlevel Big Ten teams as an opportunity to assert their dominance and recover what might have been lost during recent struggles.

Minnesota hasn’t lost to Friday’s opponent, Wisconsin, since 1995-96, or Sunday’s opponent, Purdue, since 1991-92. Still, the Gophers have sunk to 12th in the rankings while the Badgers (14-2, 1-0) and Boilermakers (13-3, 0-1) have crept closer at Nos. 13 and 18, respectively.

Nonetheless, Minnesota wrest-lers and coaches feel superior to both opponents and see this weekend as an opportunity to get back on track.

“We definitely want to dominate both of them,” heavyweight Cole Konrad said. “They are pretty average. We expect to dominate them, and we better.”

But the Gophers have already had a tough time with other midlevel opponents, beating No. 16 Pennsylvania, No. 17 Northern Iowa and unranked Michigan State all by eight points or fewer.

When contrasting a 17-16 win over No. 2 Nebraska on Jan. 1 and the pair of blowout losses to No. 5 Michigan the past two weekends where the Gophers won only three total matches, the inconsistency Robinson spoke of is apparent.

All things considered, the return of Hahn, Owen and, in a week or two, 165-pounder Jacob Volkmann should make Minnesota’s lineup stronger than it has been for most of the dual season.

Hahn has missed four straight matches because of injury and a family emergency; Owen was held out of the lineup last weekend with an injury; and Volkmann hasn’t wrestled since Jan. 4 because of an eye socket injury.

But for the less-experienced wrestlers filling the bout sheet for the Gophers, this weekend’s duals can provide some benefit.

“These matches will help some of those guys get their confidence back,” Hahn said. “Some of the guys are going to have tough matches, and some aren’t. But this will be a big confidence-builder for most of our guys.”

Friday’s dual starts at 7 p.m., and Sunday’s begins at 2 p.m.