As winter break approaches, the Gophers wrestling team finds itself in almost the same situation as last season.
Just like this year's team, the 2006-2007 team entered the break with a 6-1 dual-meet record. Both teams also lost their No. 1 preseason ranking early in the year.
Last season's team went on a historic tear after returning in January, going 14-0 and winning by an average of more than 21 points per meet. They ran away with the Big Ten title and won the national championship in late March.
"Sometimes an early loss is what it takes to wake a team up, which is what happened to us last year," assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. "I think we'll come back more fired up."
The Gophers return to dual-meet competition on Jan. 12-13 with the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals. Hosted by Northern Iowa, it is the largest collegiate dual meet event in the nation, featuring 85 teams from all levels of NCAA and club competition.
The Gophers are the defending champions of the tournament, beating then top-ranked Missouri in last season's final. It was that win that moved the Gophers back to the No. 1 ranking in the country, which they would hold until last Sunday, a stretch of more than a year.
"I'm looking for a lot of players to improve with this time we have," head coach J Robinson said. "Some guys have mechanical things like technique or conditioning, but more of them have to work on attitude and focus."
Minnesota will face an extremely strong field in the duals, with 14 of the 16 Division I teams in the tournament ranked in the top 20 of W.I.N. magazine's national rankings, including top-ranked Iowa State. It was the Cyclones who knocked Minnesota from the top spot early in the season with an 18-13 win.
"We're hoping to get Iowa State again, and if we do, we'll be more prepared," freshman heavyweight Ben Berhow said. "They had a plan that worked for them once; I don't think it'll work again."
Before the National Duals the Gophers will travel to Greensboro, N.C. for the Southern Scuffle tournament.
Last season, four Gophers - Manuel Rivera, Dustin Schlatter, Roger Kish and Cole Konrad - won individual titles at the tournament. All but Konrad will return this year.
Rivera, ranked No. 2 coming into last weekend, was upset by Cal Poly's Chad Mendes on Saturday, being pinned for just the second time in his four-year career. The tournament could be a chance to get back on track for him, after dropping to fifth in the W.I.N. magazine rankings.
"Those tough losses happen, but I don't doubt for a second that Manuel will be able to bounce back from that," senior Mack Reiter said. "Those losses are tough, but it's how you get better."
On Jan. 20 the Gophers return to the Pavilion for the first time in over a month to take on unranked South Dakota State at 2:00 p.m.
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