Kuhlman’s weight gain could mean gain for Gophers at 197

David McCoy

Mitch Kuhlman is an avid hunter.

The Minnesota wrestler has taken down his fair share of big game in his day, including bears.

Perhaps that’s fitting. Because Kuhlman’s situation wrestling at 197 pounds is a lot like a very twisted version of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” ” except with a very butch Goldilocks who has short, dark hair, a deep, manly voice and a muscular wrestler’s physique.

Like Goldilocks, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to find what was “just right.” And he’s certainly tried plenty.

But all joking aside, it now appears Kuhlman, who wrestled as small as 157 pounds last season, then moved to 165 pounds and entered this year at 174 pounds, has finally found his place.

And at the same time, he’s filling a need on the Gophers wrestling team he said even he would have never guessed he’d be filling.

“I never really imagined going up that many weight classes in wrestling,” Kuhlman said. “I just figured I’m wrestling 174 and 165 and trying to be competitive there. When I got asked to go at 197 I was a little surprised. But it’s worked out pretty good so far.”

Kuhlman is 3-0 so far this season in his new role at 197 pounds, after Minnesota was forced to scramble to find a replacement for Matt Koz, who started all of last season at 197 but left the team in mid-November, citing family reasons.

Kuhlman and redshirt freshman Justin Bronson split the team’s four opening season matches at Northeast Duals on Nov. 26, with Bronson losing both of his matches and Kuhlman winning both of his.

Minnesota’s coaching staff then elected to go with Kuhlman last weekend at Northern Iowa. The sophomore did not disappoint, winning a 4-2 match against Andrew Anderson.

Logic would predict that Kuhlman would get the nod when No. 5 Minnesota (5-0) plays host to No. 7 Iowa State (3-1) and No. 19 Nebraska (2-0) on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

But assistant coach Joe Russell said the coaching staff hasn’t made the decision yet and will wait until later in the week to make its choice for the duals.

“That weight’s still open,” Russell said. “It hasn’t been fully decided yet. But he’s been wrestling real well at this point. He’s going to have more opportunities to prove that he’s the guy.”

But at the same time, Kuhlman seemed like one of the last guys you’d think would be given the chance. He said even he didn’t think of himself as an option after Koz left.

Asked what gave Minnesota’s coaching staff the idea that a guy who wrestled at 157 pounds could bump up 40 pounds and still be competitive, Russell said it was actually more of a crapshoot than anything ultra-intuitive.

“It doesn’t hurt the coaches,” Russell said with a grin. “It might hurt him, but we’ll be all right. We’re not the brightest guys in the world and we’re not too worried about his health, so we wanted to see how it went. Turns out he’s pretty good there.”

Gophers’ 133-pound wrestler Mack Reiter thought about it for a moment, but said he couldn’t come near empathizing with the kind of adjustment Kuhlman has gone through lately.

“That’s like me wrestling at 165,” Reiter said. “I don’t think I could hang with (Matt) Nagel.”

But that adjustment has been a good one so far for Kuhlman. Not only is he getting a chance to wrestle, but he said he also feels better and healthier and more focused on wrestling than ever before.

In fact, it’s been an even easier adjustment than constantly trying to make weight.

“When I was at 157 last year, it was a tough cut for me,” Kuhlman said. “I was going down to 165 early on this year, and that was a little tough. It’s just kind of weird from going down, down, down, down to going all the way back up. My body feels a lot better and I can concentrate more on wrestling than just thinking about my weight all the time.”

And his porridge portions have been a lot more manageable. You could say they’re now “just right.”

“I’ve just been eating and drinking what I want and just staying healthy; that’s about it. I’m still lifting and doing the same as I was last year; I’m just consuming more food and feeling a lot better.”

Reiter said the move has benefited Kuhlman mentally as well.

“I actually have been really surprised with the way he’s kind of matured lately,” Reiter said. “Nothing against Mitch, but ever since he moved up to 197 he’s had a different attitude and he seems to be working a lot harder.”

Reiter said Kuhlman’s performance so far this season has given the team a sense of relief about the loss of Koz.

But Kuhlman isn’t allowed to share that relief. As the competition gets tougher starting this weekend, Kuhlman will not only need to get tougher as well, but smarter also, Russell said.

“He can’t try and overpower guys,” Russell said. “He’s got to try to slick ’em a little bit more. Don’t get stuck underneath him. Don’t try and wrestle the whole person. That guy’s a lot bigger than you. But if you can control one leg or one arm, you can still control the whole person.”

Kuhlman, who said he weighs in at about 180 now, said he knows his only hope is to try to use his size ” or lack thereof ” to his advantage.

“I wrestled lower weights and I haven’t fared quite as well,” Kuhlman said. “I knew it was going to be a little bit of a test for me. But I knew that I could use some of the speed and everything and that it would help out a lot. You’ve got to figure I’m probably a little quicker and can get out of certain situations.”

And now that very situation that the Gophers found themselves in at the beginning of the season is looking a whole lot more bearable.

“It just shows what (Kuhlman) is willing to do for the team,” Reiter said. “It sucked to see (Koz) leave; he was a big part of the team, an NCAA qualifier from last year. And no team wants to lose an NCAA qualifier, but it’s great to see that we have guys waiting in the wings ready to step in.”