When the Gophers face Nebraska Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, the team will likely be wrestling for at least a share of the Big Ten’s regular season title.
Minnesota (9-3, 6-1 Big Ten) has only one conference dual remaining and currently sits alone atop the conference standings.
Nebraska and Penn State are tied for second with a 5-1 record, but each has two duals this weekend. What’s interesting is that Nebraska and Penn State wrestle each other on Friday, meaning that both teams cannot lose both matches.
Penn State has won every dual since losing to Minnesota in November and also took first place at the Southern Scuffle in early January. It’s likely that the No. 2 Nittany Lions defeat Nebraska on Friday and Michigan on Sunday — meaning that the Gophers would be wrestling for a share of the Big Ten crown Sunday.
The Big Ten is a very top-heavy conference with eight of its 12 teams in the top-25 so this weekend’s matches are far from predictable.
Minnesota is coming off a two-point road defeat to rival Iowa. The loss left a bitter taste in the wrestlers’ mouths, said seniors Zach Sanders (125 pounds) and Sonny Yohn (197).
“Against Iowa, again [like Michigan], a tough team with close matches,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to win those close matches if we want to win the dual meet — it’s that simple.”
Yohn said that the team’s morale is still high despite its loss and the fact it needed a comeback to beat Michigan.
“We’re a way better team than that; we could have shut [Michigan] out,” Yohn said. “On Sunday, it just didn’t go our way. We didn’t wrestle to our potential — that’s all there is, we didn’t get the job done.”
Sunday’s dual will feature five matches between two individually-ranked opponents, and the Huskers are favored in three of those five matches.
Yohn and Sanders, the only seniors in the Gophers’ lineup, will face unranked opponents on senior day.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Yohn said. “It’s going to be nice to get back out there and compete again. It’s hard to wait a whole week to compete after a loss like [Iowa].”
Kevin Steinhaus, ranked seventh at 184 pounds, will face No. 8 Josh Ihnen in the day’s premier matchup.
Other interesting matchups are No. 7 Chris Dardanes (133) versus No. 18 Ridge Kiley; No. 11 Nick Dardanes (141) versus No. 5 Jake Sueflohn and No. 4 Tony Nelson (heavyweight) versus No. 9 Tucker Lane.
Cody Yohn, ranked No. 15 at 165 pounds, will face No. 6 Robert Kokesh. Yohn has lost five of his last seven matches, twice by fall, including last Sunday when Iowa’s Mike Evans pinned him.
The six points Iowa received from the pin made the Gophers’ comeback much more difficult, and Minnesota lost by two points.
Even with his brother’s struggles and the team’s loss to Iowa, Sonny Yohn said there is no question the Gophers are an elite team.
“I have no doubt that when it comes to Big Tens and Nationals that we’re going to be the team on top,” Yohn said. “It’s embarrassing to lose to [Iowa], but it’s over, and we’ve got to move on.”
Storley to be honored
True freshman Logan Storley will be honored before Sunday’s dual with the 2011 Junior Hodge Trophy. The award is given to the nation’s top high school wrestler by Win Magazine.
Storley went 42-1 during his senior season at Webster High School in Roslyn, S.D.
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