There are plenty of examples of that demonstrate the parity in Big Ten wrestling, but perhaps none better than the weekend Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan just had.
Last Saturday, the Wildcats and Wolverines battled it out in Evanston, Ill. and tied. Ten matches, anywhere between three and six points up for grabs per match, and they ended deadlocked at 17-17.
The following day, Michigan edged Indiana 20-18. Score sound familiar? That’s because Minnesota topped Penn State by the same count two days earlier. Then on Sunday, the Gophers snuck past Ohio State 18-16 .
Four dual meets decided by a cumulative six points. And this weekend, it’ll probably be more of the same when No. 8 Minnesota hosts the 18th-ranked Wolverines and 16th-ranked Wildcats at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers will grapple Michigan tonight at 7 p.m. and Northwestern on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Of course, as redshirt freshman Sonny Yohn points out, these aren’t the only Big Ten matchups expected to be close.
“Every dual meet’s going to look close on paper,” he said. “It’s about who shows up to wrestle.”
Minnesota has been doing just that in early conference duals – it’s off to a 3-0 start. But the road only gets tougher.
Yohn, who’s listed along with junior Brent Eidenschink as possible starters at 184 , is coming off an 0-2 weekend that included a 21-4 loss by technical fall to Ohio State’s 2nd-ranked Mike Pucillo last Sunday . He seems to be lacking no confidence, however, as he prepares for another daunting weekend.
On Friday, it’s the Wolverines’ No. 13 Anthony Biondo; Sunday, top-ranked and undefeated Jake Herbert of the Wildcats , who spent the 2007-2008 season training for the Olympics after winning the 2007 NCAA National Championship at 184.
“It’s a great opportunity to prove [myself],” Yohn said. “I’ve got nothing to lose. Competing with guys [like this] each week is only going to make you better.”
If that’s the case, then whoever wrestles for the Gophers at 174 will be made better this weekend too. Redshirt freshman Kaleb Young and junior Matt Everson are both listed as probable starters, and whoever goes will run up against Michigan’s No. 1 Steve Luke tonight .
174 and 184 aren’t two of Minnesota’s strongest weight classes, but head coach J Robinson sees this weekend as a helpful litmus test for them.
“It’s a good indication for our guys to see where they are and see what they’ve got to do at those weight classes,” he said.
But Yohn doesn’t want to just see where he’s at – he wants to win. Never mind that Herbert was an undefeated national champion in his last college season, Yohn feels he can beat anyone.
“You have to have that mentality or you’re never going to make it,” he said.
And if last weekend taught the Gophers anything, it’s that they may well need a clutch win from an unexpected source. When redshirt freshman Zach Sanders and junior Jayson Ness – Minnesota’s two best wrestlers in terms of win percentage and ranking – both lost at Penn State last Friday, it was junior Gordon Bierschenk’s pin at 197 that regained the lead and propelled the Gophers to victory – a victory that surprised even Robinson.
“If someone would have said that we’d beat Penn State without Ness or Sanders winning, I wouldn’t have seen how that would have been possible,” Robinson said. “But guys are stepping up and they’re doing what they have to do to make sure that we can win. I think that’s a positive thing for us right now.”
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