Parity is an unfamiliar concept in college wrestling.
Consider this: In the last decade, three teams have won the Division I NCAA championship. Oklahoma State has four, Minnesota and Iowa each have three. Another fun fact: in 78 years of Division I NCAA championships, two teams — Oklahoma State and Iowa — account for more than 70 percent of the national titles.
The Gophers have only recently elevated themselves to the level of the Cowboys and the Hawkeyes. Their national championships in 2001, 2002 and 2007 are the first three in school history , but they’re in the title conversation most every year now.
What this overwhelming dominance by a very small group of teams means for the sport can certainly be debated. Assistant coach Luke Becker won’t complain as long as Minnesota is one of those teams and admits he wouldn’t sacrifice the Gophers’ position at the top of the heap in the name of parity.
“It would probably help our sport to grow if a couple other teams could climb to the top and win a national title,” he said.
In the mean time, when two of the country’s best teams meet, it’s something to be savored.
No. 5 Minnesota and No. 3 Oklahoma State face off in Stillwater, Okla. Friday night at 7 p.m . The Cowboys have won the last two matchups; the Gophers won three straight before that.
Minnesota is fresh off a commanding 31-9 victory over Cal State Bakersfield. The trio of sophomore Zach Sanders (125-pounds), senior Jayson Ness (133) and junior Mike Thorn (141) was dominant, and sophomore Sonny Yohn impressed yet again at 184 with a technical fall. Conspicuously missing from the lineup were top-ranked senior Dustin Schlatter (165) and already-9th-ranked redshirt freshman Mario Mason (149). Both will take the mat against Oklahoma State.
“We trained through Bakersfield a little bit to get ready for this dual,” Becker said in explaining the absence of two of Minnesota’s best wrestlers.
This week, Thorn, ranked No. 4 by Intermat, wrestles 5th-ranked Jamal Parks , a man he might vaguely remember from a season ago. Thorn, 17-3 and ranked 6th when he faced Parks on New Year’s Day 2009 , dropped a 10-7 decision during a 23-13 loss to Oklahoma State .
With the expectation of such a tightly contested dual, Thorn knows he needs to reverse that score line.
“I have a few points to make up,” Thorn said. “This is especially important because it’s going to be a tight team dual. I count on my teammates to win, so I have to make sure I can count on myself.”
The Gophers will face nine ranked wrestlers; they boast eight themselves, although No. 11 Jake Deitchler at 157 is still nursing injuries and will again be unable to make his college debut. There aren’t likely to be many lopsided matchups, so jumping to early leads will be critical, Ness said.
“Getting that first takedown is huge. You get that first takedown and start rolling, and they start doubting themselves,” Ness said.
Ness, ranked 2nd at 133, is 4-0 on the season with four pins . Already Minnesota’s all-time pins leader entering the season, he’s quickly distanced himself even further and now boasts 58 falls in his career. Another fall may be difficult against 7th-ranked Oklahoma State freshman Jordan Oliver ; that doesn’t mean it won’t be Ness’ goal.
“That’s what I think wrestling is all about,” he said. “My whole life I’ve tried to pin guys; that’s just my style, so I’m going to keep doing that and my goal is to pin everyone I wrestle.”
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