Top-ranked Gophers host 10th-ranked Nitanny Lions in conference opener

Minnesota has seven of its 10 starters ranked nationally, including two No. 1’s.

Tyler Rushmeyer

Coming off a huge weekend in which it defeated four ranked teams in two days, the Minnesota wrestling team would perhaps expect to get a break.

But instead, its reward will be facing off against two more ranked opponents in the coming week, beginning with No. 10 Penn State in the Big Ten opener Sunday.

The Nittany Lions will bring four top-10 wrestlers to the Sports Pavilion and a challenge that the Gophers will need to be up to.

Redshirt freshman Jayson Ness (125), ranked No. 5, will do battle with junior Mark McKnight, ranked No. 2, in what should be the biggest match of the night.

“It’s at home. It’s big,” Ness said. “I want to go out and prove I belong at the top. The conference is one of the best and we want to start it out right.”

Minnesota (11-1) opens the Big Ten season ranked No. 1 after taking home the 2007 National Duals Title last weekend and will get a tough test early on.

Penn State (9-2) opens the season tonight against No. 17 Wisconsin before coming to Minnesota on Sunday. The Nittany Lions’ defeats have come at the hands of No. 13 Cornell and No. 5 Hofstra, the team that also handed the Gophers their only defeat of the season, 18-17, in November.

Minnesota assistant coach Joe Russell said the team is feeling confident after bringing home the National Duals Title, and sitting at No. 1 in the country, but also acknowledged that the Big Ten will make it tough to stay there.

“Everybody’s tough in the Big Ten. So we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game every week,” he said. “It’s the same every year Ö always a battle.”

After last weekend’s impressive performance, the Gophers now have seven ranked wrestlers within their starting 10, including Ness, No. 2 Manuel Rivera (141), No. 3 C.P. Schlatter (157), No. 12 Gabriel Dretsch (174), No. 2 Roger Kish (184) plus Dustin Schlatter (149) and Cole Konrad (HWT), both No. 1 in the country.

Kish, who dropped his first decision of the season last weekend and sits at 20-1, said the tough schedule is something the team doesn’t concern itself with, and it’s in good shape coming into the opener.

“We do a good job training week in and week out,” he said. “We’re not focusing on the teams we’re facing Ö we’re focusing on us getting constantly better.”

Schlatter receivers honor

Junior C.P. Schlatter was named TheMat.com Wrestler of the Week on Thursday for his efforts at the 2007 National Duals last weekend.

Returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for over a month, Schlatter was quite impressive, compiling a 4-0 record that included a 5-4 decision over then-No. 2 Trent Paulson of Iowa State.

He also defeated No. 12 Michael Chandler of top-ranked Missouri in a 6-5 decision.

For his efforts, the previously unranked Schlatter has now moved up to No. 3 in the country.

Top wrestlers in books

Those who attend Sunday’s match will have a chance to witness history as heavyweight Cole Konrad has a chance to obtain the longest winning streak in Minnesota wrestling history. He has won 58 straight matches, and needs just one more to break the record previously held by Tim Hartung.

Dustin Schlatter (149) is also moving up the list, winning 51 straight decisions.