Tourney often an indicator

The Gophers won the National Duals in their NCAA title years of 2001, 2002.

Matt Anderson

In recent years, no single event has proven more prophetic in predicting the end-of-season success for Minnesota’s wrestling team than the NWCA National Duals.

After finishing seventh at last year’s National Duals in Cleveland, the team went on to finish the season a disappointing eighth at NCAAs. In 2001 and 2002, national championship teams made early statements by taking first at National Duals.

This year, No. 8 Minnesota (2-3) heads back to Cleveland for the weekend-long tournament coming off an 11-day layoff. The Gophers take to the mats Saturday at 11 a.m. for their first-round match with No. 12 Central Michigan (5-1) hoping to break a two-dual losing streak.

“Whichever team wins, it uses it as motivation for the rest of the season,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “It gives you an idea of where your team is; I think that’s what the important thing is.”

Although the last few years have seen close correlation between a National Duals finish and an NCAA finish, 125-pounder Bobbe Lowe said he believes the event might not be an accurate predictor for the NCAAs.

“We’ve kind of altered our views and the way we train, and we’re kind of more of a tournament team,” the undefeated and fourth-ranked Lowe said of the team’s philosphy this year. “I think it’s just a good stepping stone to see a lot of that competition. But I don’t think it really relates to how we do at NCAAs.”

While Minnesota has struggled so far in January, Matt Nagel, who is ranked seventh at 165 pounds, said he thinks the Gophers are ready to turn the corner.

“We took a couple lumps, and guys are starting to figure out where we were at,” he said. “We got a couple of weeks there where we could just work out and train, and I think everybody’s feeling real good and excited and ready to go.”

The quality of the field at this weekend’s tournament should indicate whether the Gophers are truly ready to compete with the nation’s elite teams.

Seven of the 16 teams competing at the tournament are ranked in the nation’s top 10, including No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Illinois.

Central Michigan could provide Minnesota, seeded sixth for the event, with a tough match to open the tournament.

The Chippewas enter the National Duals with six of their 10 starting wrestlers ranked in the top 20 in their weight classes.

“I think it will be a hard match,” Robinson said. “If we go in there without the right attitude, I think that we’re going to have problems.”

A first-round victory would likely pit Minnesota against the Big Ten foe Michigan in the quarterfinals.

Though Robinson said five or six freshmen could start at National Duals, he still expects his team to contend for the title.

“We’re not going there just to be a part of it; we’re going there to win,” he said. “When you go there to win, it takes a different attitude.”