Rematch with Michigan comes on heels of 21-16 upset Saturday

The Wolverines are on the verge of joining the Big Ten elite this season.

Matt Anderson

In 1999, Minnesota’s wrestling program finally broke through in the Big Ten, beating national powerhouse Iowa to win the conference championship and ending the Hawkeyes’ string of 24 straight Big Ten titles.

At 1 p.m Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, No. 7 Michigan (9-3, 1-0 Big Ten) hopes to make a statement that the Big Ten has another program ready for a breakthrough when it faces fifth-ranked Minnesota (6-4, 0-0) in a dual meet.

Minnesota also opens its Big Ten season at 7 p.m. tonight when it plays host to No. 15 Michigan State (5-2, 2-0).

The Wolverines match is actually a rematch – Minnesota beat then-second-ranked Michigan 21-16 Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NWCA National Duals in Cleveland.

“We haven’t been able to get to where Iowa and Minnesota have been,” Wolverines coach Joe McFarland said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do; no doubt that’s one of our goals.”

When Minnesota finally won a Big Ten title in 1999 and two years later won the school’s first NCAA Championship, it reached the level of acclaim that Iowa had been at for so long.

“A big thing was when we finally beat Iowa in a dual meet, we knew we could compete with them,” Minnesota assistant coach Joe Russell said. “Illinois hadn’t beaten us since 1964, and now they finally beat us. They can start believing they’re the best team. Or Michigan last year beat us twice, so they know they belong.”

In two dual meets last season, Michigan trounced Minnesota, winning 30-6 and 31-4. But when the Big Ten Championships came around, Michigan finished fourth, unable to break through against champion Iowa and second-place Minnesota.

Despite the continued success of Minnesota and Iowa at the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan and Illinois have both seen their wrestling profiles improve over recent years.

Since 1999, Illinois and Michigan have each finished in the top five at the conference tournament every season except for 2003, when Michigan placed sixth.

“When Joe McFarland came in, he brought a different mentality, and he brought different recruiting and he just works at it a little harder than the old coach Joe Barr did,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “They use the name of Michigan in athletics to recruit some really quality kids.”

Come Sunday, Michigan will have another opportunity to make a statement.

And another chance to beat the Gophers in the dual format.

“For us, this is going to be a chance to see if we can come back and rebound from that loss,” McFarland said. “It’s in their gym, so we’re really going to have to be ready to go if we want to have a chance.”