Gophers wrestling braces for Big Ten Championships

Minnesota is stumbling into the postseason having lost its last three duals.

Gophers Redshirt Freshman Brayton Lee fights a takedown at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 9. The Gophers lost to Penn State 31-10.

Parker Johnson

Gophers Redshirt Freshman Brayton Lee fights a takedown at Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 9. The Gophers lost to Penn State 31-10.

Nolan O'Hara

After closing out their season with a 9-8 record in duals, the Gophers wrestling team is looking toward the Big Ten Championships, taking place March 7-8 in New Jersey. 

Minnesota lost its last three duals of the season, facing top-ranked competition including Penn State and Iowa. The Gophers’ last loss came against Nebraska at Maturi Pavilion, but the 29-12 defeat wasn’t without standout individual performances from heavyweight Gable Steveson, 176-pound Devin Skatzka and 149-pound Brayton Lee. Steveson and Lee both picked up bonus point victories, landing eight and nine takedowns respectively, while Skatzka picked up a top-10 signature win over Mikey Labriola. Despite the loss, the flashes from Minnesota provided reason to be optimistic moving into March.

And with the Big Ten Championships on the horizon, it’s a clean slate for the Gophers. The two-week break between Minnesota’s last dual and the Big Ten’s gives Minnesota time to get healthy and prepare for a strong showing in New Jersey. 

“We do a little more recovery time here just because we don’t have to make weight here this next week,” head coach Brandon Eggum said after the Nebraska dual. “We can allow the guys to recover without having to get right into the workout, which is always part of the uniqueness of this sport, having to manage weights.” 

On Monday, the Big Ten released the pre-seeds for the conference tournament, with five Gophers notching top-five seeds. After picking up wins in the last dual of the season, Steveson, Lee and Skatzka come in as the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in their respective weight classes. At 125 pounds, redshirt freshman Patrick McKee, along with 157-pound Ryan Thomas will join them in the top-five with the No. 3 and No. 5 seeds respectively.

Seeding may help in matchup favorability, but in the Big Ten, often touted by Eggum as the toughest conference in the country, anything can happen regardless of the opponent. 

“At the end of the day, you throw records out the door when you’re going to the Big Ten Championships or NCAA Championships. That stuff doesn’t matter, but some guys can put themselves in a little better spot, some guys a little more challenging spot,” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s the Big Ten. Every opponent is going to be tough and you got to go out and be ready and win.” 

The Big Ten Championships is Minnesota’s last stop before the NCAA Championships, taking place right in the Gophers’ backyard, at U.S. Bank Stadium. This marks the first time that the NCAA Championships have been held at a football stadium. For Skatzka, with the Big Ten’s and NCAA’s right around the corner, this point in March is the best time of the year. 

“I’m super excited, can’t wait,” he said. “These are my favorite two times of the year. A lot of excitement surrounding those two tournaments. [I’ll] be more excited to host the NCAA’s, can’t wait.”