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Gophers wrestling letting wins speak for themselves

The fear of failure is a foreign concept for Gophers wrestling as the team emphasizes fundamentals and post-match reflections.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Garrett Joles raises his hand after beating his opponent from Northwestern on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2023. The Gophers swept the Wildcats from Northwestern with a score of 39-0.

Gophers wrestling has pulled off multiple upset wins recently but is limiting internal conversations about their success.

As of Monday, the program sits at No. 10 in the National Wrestling Association Coach’s poll. Their most recent win over Northwestern pushed them to an overall 8-2 record.

Head coach Brandon Eggum said the team rarely talks about winning and is instead focused on “wrestling smart.”

“The winning and losing part is always going to be there, we’re all human so you’re gonna think about that,” Eggum said. “I think the less you’re consumed by that, the better opportunity you have to go out and compete at your highest level.”

Eggum’s philosophy has proven true for his team with several wrestlers pulling off upset wins, the most prominent being Michael Blockhus.

Blockhus defeated then-ranked No. 2 Jared Franek from Iowa on his home mat. Earlier in the season, Blockhus handed Franek his first loss of the season and broke his 15-match winning streak.

Blockhus and teammate Patrick McKee often go to La Bodega Fitness and Fight Club in Prior Lake to work on mixed martial arts (MMA) as part of their cardio training. The MMA training allows Blockhus and McKee to get creative with their cardio training while mixing in different workouts.

“It’s something fun to do instead of running on a treadmill or doing cardio equipment exercises,” Blockhus said.

Prior to the 2023-2024 wrestling season, Blockhus announced via social media his intention to forgo his final season of NCAA eligibility to pursue a career in MMA fighting. He made his debut at Bellator 298, defeating Eli Mefford. He announced his decision to return to the Gophers after the win.

Blockhus holds a 5-0 conference record and attributes much of his success to his MMA training.

“You can mix in different things like mitts and bag work,” Blockhus said.

Garrett Joles earned his first conference win of the season in overtime against then-ranked No. 9 John Poznanski from Rutgers after scoring on a takedown. Eggum said the rewards of competing with intensity are infectious.

“Conditioning and wrestling for the entire seven minutes is such a big part of being successful at the highest level,” Eggum said. “You want to win the close ones and the ability to do that, and belief in that is, can be contagious.”

Freshman Tyler Wells came into the Gophers program with the plan to redshirt but, after upsetting then-ranked No.17 Kurt Phipps of Bucknell, the coaching staff decided to remove his redshirt and start him.

Wells clinched the Rutgers match for the Gophers when he upset then-ranked No. 8 Dylan Shawver on a takedown in overtime. Wells lost his first conference matchup Friday to No. 21 Braxton Brown of Maryland.

Wells said there is no secret to his success. For a team that does not talk about winning, he fits right in.

“I’m just going out there to have fun,” Wells said. “It’s just wrestling. You don’t gotta look at it as more than that.”

As of Monday, Wells ranks No. 20 in the 133-pound weight class and is 4-1 in the conference season.

With just three dual matches left, the Gophers are building their confidence at the right time. According to Wells, his recent wins helped convince himself of his ability to compete at the conference level.

“We’re really trying to get them thinking not so much about failing and that being a fearful thing, but more as an opportunity to go out and just learn,” Eggum said.

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