Gophers shut out four straight opponents in early season

by Allison Younge

Six matches into the season, the Gophers wrestling team has successfully fulfilled its high-ranked expectations — so far. Minnesota captured a handful of dominating victories over the holiday break.
“The guys weren’t just winning close matches, they were controlling their opponents,” Gophers assistant coach Joe Russell said. “They were winning by pin or by major decision which says a lot. They’re progressing.”
On Dec. 5, the Gophers traveled to Jackson, Minn. to host dual meets against Truman State and Augustana. The matches were scheduled in Jackson in an attempt to promote the sport of wrestling in Minnesota. In front of a full-house at the Jackson High School gym, the Gophers shut out Truman State 57-0 and Augustana 53-0.
Minnesota recorded 12 pins in the pair of back to back matches. Senior Jason Davids, juniors Josh Holiday and Tim Hartung and sophomore Brandon Eggum combined for eight pins — each pinning both of their opponents.
These matches marked the Gophers second and third shut-out victories this season. The first came on Dec. 4 in Minnesota’s 38-0 win over Mankato State at the Sports Pavilion.
The Gophers blanked their fourth straight opponent on Dec. 14 in Fresno, Calif. Minnesota downed San Francisco State 46-0 recording five pins and two major decisions in the first of three matches that day.
Fresno State and Cal State Bakersfield, the Gophers’ next opponents, were the first teams to dodge a Minnesota shut out this season. Fresno State’s fourth-ranked Stephen Abas downed Gophers freshman Brett Lawrence 4-3 in the 118 pound match. However, the three team points earned were not nearly enough to counter the Gophers attack — Fresno State fell 45-3.
After claiming the win over Fresno State in the early afternoon, the Gophers traveled to Bakersfield, Calif., for their match against Cal State Bakersfield (ranked No. 19). Davids, Hartung and junior Delaney Berger recorded pins, leading the Gophers to a 39-10 victory — their third of the day.
Minnesota’s senior Shelton Benjamin met Cal State Bakersfield’s No. 1 ranked Stephen Neal in the heavyweight match. Benjamin (ranked No. 4) and Neal were even 1-1 to start the third period, but within forty-five seconds Neal pinned Benjamin earning six much-needed team points for Cal State Bakersfield.
Even though the Gophers have consistently dominated their opponents as of late, the team’s intensity hasn’t let up. The six match win streak has formed a contest within the team.
“It’s exciting,” Gophers 126 pounder Pat Connors said. “You don’t want to be the guy that loses. It’s kind of like an individual competition between each guy, to go out and see how bad you can beat somebody.”
While the Gophers upcoming matches will offer more of a challenge, positive groundwork has been laid. Starting the new year at 6-0, the third-ranked Gophers hope to continue to prove their status as a national powerhouse.
“It’s set the stage for where our guys are at,” Russell said. “They know that they’re one of the elite teams in the country now and the expectations have changed. Now, they’re not expected just to win a match, they’re expected to dominate.”