Wrestlers set for season opener

Head coach J Robinson and the Gophers travel for the Bison Open.

Austin Cumblad

College wrestling doesnâÄôt have a preseason, but for Minnesota, the Bison Open comes awfully close. It certainly has that lopsided quality youâÄôd expect. The Gophers boast 155 individual champions as the tournament, hosted by North Dakota State, enters its 40th year . The host Bison have the second most titles with 59. In 2008, Gophers wrestlers claimed championships in eight of 10 weight classes. Now add this: Minnesota is better in 2009. The Gophers return All-Americans Zach Sanders (125 pounds), Jayson Ness (133) and Dustin Schlatter (165), a senior who redshirted last season and competed in September with the U.S. freestyle wrestling team at the World Wrestling Championships in Denmark . All are ranked preseason in the top 4 in their respective weight classes by InterMat Wrestling. Junior Mike Thorn (141) is No. 9, senior Ben Berhow (Heavyweight) is No. 10 and redshirt freshman Mario Mason (149) and freshman Jake Deitchler (157) are both ranked in the top 20 despite having never wrestled for Minnesota. Needless to say, expectations are high entering the 2009-10 season and SaturdayâÄôs Bison Open in Fargo gives the Gophers an opportunity to make a powerful opening statement prior to next weekendâÄôs more competitive Kaufman-Brand Open. âÄúYou get to a point, having practiced the last five weeks, where you have to have some competition to see where you are,âÄù head coach J Robinson said. âÄúThis is a good warm-up and next week is even better. WeâÄôll really get a flavor of where we are next week.âÄù Where they are now is No. 5 in the country behind top-ranked Iowa, Iowa State, Ohio State and Cornell. Preseason rankings rarely have predictive value, so Minnesota is just predicting big things itself. âÄúRealistically, we have three guys that can reach the national finals, that are good enough right now,âÄù Robinson said. That would be Sanders, Ness and Schlatter. As a freshman last year, Sanders burst out to a 15-0 start, led the team with 39 wins and earned All-America honors with a sixth-place finish at the national tournament. Though he never seems to tire, Sanders said this year heâÄôd rather win matches early rather than fight for them late . âÄúI wore a lot of people out and scored a lot of points in the third period and won a lot of matches that way [in 2008-09],âÄù Sanders said. âÄúBut I have to start off the match faster and not give up the first takedown.âÄù As a redshirt freshman, Ness was part of the GophersâÄô 2007 national championship team. He wrestled at 125 during his freshman and sophomore seasons, earning back-to-back All-America honors with finishes of fifth and second at the national tournament before transitioning to 133 a year ago and claiming both third place at the NCAA championships and his third All-America recognition. How does MinnesotaâÄôs all-time pins leader hope to finish his prolific career? âÄúI came in on a national title team, and IâÄôd like to leave on a national title team,âÄù Ness said. âÄúAnd IâÄôd like to get [an individual title] for myself too.âÄù That leaves Schlatter, who is a preseason No. 1 , despite redshirting a year ago. Now a senior and no longer hampered by the injuries that slowed him as a junior, Schlatter looks to replicate his 2006 individual national championship at 149 with one at 165 in 2010. Regardless, SchlatterâÄôs presence at 165 should shore up a weight that was a bit of a weakness in 2008-09. In fact, Sanders said he doesnâÄôt expect Minnesota to have a weak weight class this season. âÄúFrom 125 to heavyweight, we have a guy that can All-American at each of those weights.âÄù