The Gophers wrestling team finished third Sunday at the Big Ten championships, but Iowa and Penn State’s neck-and-neck team race made Minnesota seem like an also-ran.
Penn State won the team championship, ending Iowa’s three-year reign as kings of the Big Ten and earning the school’s first conference title since joining the Big Ten in 1993. The Gophers sent three wrestlers to the finals but came away with no individual champions.
“I definitely wished we would have finished better today,” head assistant coach Joe Russell said. “We need to find a way to close that gap and there’s not a lot of time to do it so a sense of urgency is upon us.”
On the positive side, the Gophers qualified nine wrestlers for the NCAA tournament March 17-19, earning a spot at every weight class except 157 pounds.
Last year’s Big Ten champion Mike Thorn (141) defeated Montell Marion of Iowa in come-from-behind fashion to make the finals, but dropped an 8-4 decision once there.
Wrestling in the finals, he was taken down in an early flurry by No. 1 Kellen Russell of Michigan. Two Thorn escapes tied the score, but in the third period, Russell scored a rolling near fall to all but seal the decision. It was his third Big Ten championship.
Russell’s coach described the sequence as a gyroscope because of the supreme body control and balance necessary to execute the move.
In the 184-pound final, Kevin Steinhaus dropped a 4-3 decision to Quentin Wright, the No. 8 seed. Wright upset No. 1 Travis Rutt with a 10-2 major decision en route to his matchup with Steinhaus.
Second-seeded Steinhaus recorded a major decision earlier in the season over Wright, 10-1, but fell just short in the final Sunday.
Steinhaus was trailing by a point and went for a takedown with five seconds remaining. It looked as though he had secured a last-second, 2-point takedown to win the title, but the clock expired fractions of a second too soon.
Tony Nelson (heavyweight) upset No. 1 Cameron Wade of Penn State in the semifinals, but dropped a decision to Iowa’s Blake Rasing in the finals.
“Coming into this tournament, I was real excited where I was,” Nelson told Big Ten Network. “I wrestled well against Wade earlier and I worked hard on the things that I needed to from the last time we wrestled.”
It seemed to help.
Nelson, after losing to both Wade and Rasing in the final two weeks of the regular season, looked better against both on the weekend.
Assistant coach Brandon Eggum said earlier in the season that Nelson is so good on top that if he scores first, he can contend with any wrestler in the country. Part of that is due to heavyweight matches being notoriously low-scoring, but it also speaks to Nelson’s strength and riding ability.
The redshirt freshman’s problem all year, though, has been inconsistent offense, according to head coach J Robinson.
His problem Sunday, however, seemed to be an injured knee. Rasing had control of Nelson’s right leg in the air and when he twisted to try to take Nelson down it appeared to hyperextend his knee.
Nelson writhed in pain and asked for time, but the referee did not see the request and awarded Raising near fall points before granting Nelson an injury timeout. Those points proved decisive, as Nelson dropped the decision 5-2.
Russell said he did not know the extent of Nelson’s injury and team trainers would not comment on it.
“Winning a Big Ten title is something special that you get to take with you the rest of your life, so to see those guys get a chance and to not come away with it hurts,” Russell said.
Zach Sanders (125) dropped his semifinal match to No. 2 Brandon Precin. Pre-seeded third, Sanders won his two consolation matches to take third and also scored bonus points for his team along the way.
David Thorn (133) dropped his first match, a 4-3 decision, to Iowa’s Tony Ramos. Thorn placed seventh at 133.
Both Danny Zilverberg (149) and Matt Mincey (157) dropped their opening matches to top-ranked opponents. Zilverberg finished 6th; Mincey did not place and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Cody Yohn (165) lost his semifinal match, and placed fourth after dropping the consolation final to Iowa’s Aaron Janssen, 4-2.
His older brother Sonny Yohn (197) dropped a close 3-2 decision to No. 1 Trevor Brandvold in the semifinals. The elder Yohn went on to defeat Logan Brown of Purdue 3-2 to take fifth.
Scott Glasser (174) dropped his opening match to No. 6 Ben Jordan, 5-4, but went on to avenge that loss and take fifth with a 6-1 decision over Jordan.