The Gophers wrestling team surrendered only three points in its last two duals. With stiffer competition on the horizon, itâÄôs safe to say the weekendâÄôs matchups will be more interesting.
Minnesota (8-2, 5-0 Big Ten) will face No. 11 Michigan (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at the Sports Pavilion and then travel south to face No. 6 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
âÄúWeâÄôve just got to do the same things weâÄôve been doing the last couple duals,âÄù sophomore captain Kevin Steinhaus said. âÄúEverybodyâÄôs really been performing really well.âÄù
The Hawkeyes (9-3, 4-2 Big Ten) were ranked No. 2 last week but fell in the rankings after back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Penn State. Minnesota beat both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions earlier this season.
When asked to pick out a couple of key matches for the Iowa dual specifically, head assistant coach Brandon Eggum named about six before giving up.
âÄúI apologize a little bit, just to try to pick out one match in a dual like this is impossible,âÄù Eggum said. âÄúI canâÄôt pick one. I know in the country everyoneâÄôs excited to see the [Zach] Sanders [versus Matt] McDonough match. But as far as the team as a whole, all 10 matches are equally important.âÄù
MinnesotaâÄôs only top-ranked wrestler, Sanders (125 pounds), will face off against No. 2 McDonough on Sunday in one of the seasonâÄôs most anticipated matchups.
âÄúI know Sanders is really excited about that,âÄù Eggum said. âÄúTwo of the top ranked guys in the country, so thatâÄôs a great opportunity for us to get a chance to compete against him.âÄù
Both duals feature a bevy of individually ranked wrestlers. No. 7 Chris Dardanes (133), his twin brother No. 12 Nick Dardanes (141), Cody Yohn (165), Logan Storley (174) and Tony Nelson (heavyweight) will face ranked wrestlers from both Michigan and Iowa.
Nick Dardanes will face No. 1 Kellen Russell on Friday.
The 157-pound match will not have a ranked wrestler Friday or Sunday. In terms of having higher ranked wrestlers, Minnesota holds a 6-3 advantage against both Michigan and Iowa.
âÄúOn paper [MichiganâÄôs] a strong team,âÄù Eggum said. âÄúSo weâÄôre going to have to wrestle well. I think theyâÄôre favored in four of the 10 matches, and thereâÄôs a couple matches that they have good competitors where weâÄôre going to have to wrestle well.
âÄúThereâÄôs a string of tight matches in [the Iowa dual], I think on paper you could see itâÄôs pretty even,âÄù he added.
The Gophers hold a distinct advantage at the upper weights in both duals, which, depending on what weight opens the dual, could play a key role.
âÄúIf any of us can get bonus points it would really help us out,âÄù Steinhaus said. âÄúUsually our lower guys get us started off really well and most of the time get bonus points down low but if it comes down to us up top, IâÄôm pretty confident that we can get wins, but bonus points are huge.âÄù
Steinhaus (184) and Sonny Yohn (197) will face unranked opponents Friday and Sunday.
Coaches have worked with Nelson on being more aggressive and shooting more âÄî something that could help the No. 4 ranked heavyweight against No. 11 Ben Apland from Michigan and No. 10 Bobby Telford from Iowa.
âÄúAt the heavyweight weight class you donâÄôt see a lot of shooting very often,âÄù Nelson said. âÄúWith my size and speed compared to the other guys, IâÄôve got to use that to my advantage. I want to be more offensive and put more points on the board.âÄù
Minnesota figures to face a hostile crowd when it travels to Iowa, which has led the nation in attendance each of the past five seasons. The Hawkeyes are drawing more than 9,000 people per home dual this year.
âÄúThe Iowa crowd and the fan support down there are excellent,âÄù Eggum said. âÄúItâÄôs a great environment to wrestle in so weâÄôre looking forward to that, and I think it will be a big weekend for us.âÄù
Minnesota is alone in first place in the Big Ten Conference and is the only team remaining with a perfect conference record.