The No. 3 Gophers wrestling team took first place at the 2012 National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals on Sunday.
Minnesota (14-3, 7-1 Big Ten) defeated No. 2 Iowa 16-15 in the semifinals and No. 1 Oklahoma State 18-13 in the finals.
“I think it was a great team effort,” head coach J Robinson said. “It’s the National Dual meets, and it’s all about a team … it was a great effort at every weight.”
The wins avenged two losses to Iowa and OSU earlier this season. The Cowboys defeated the Gophers 23-14 in early December, and the Hawkeyes beat them 19-17 in late January.
The dual against OSU was back and forth throughout and featured four lead changes.
Zach Sanders (125 pounds), Nick Dardanes (141), Cody Yohn (165), Kevin Steinhaus (184), Sonny Yohn (197) and Tony Nelson (heavyweight) all picked up wins for the Gophers against OSU. Cody Yohn defeated Chris Perry in overtime.
Minnesota led by two points going into the heavyweight match, where Nelson defeated Austin Marsden 8-1 to seal the win and the title for the Gophers.
Minnesota dominated at the upper weights — mainly 184, 197 and heavyweight — in both duals.
Nelson took the mat against Iowa with the team trailing by two points. But he picked up a hard-fought 2-0 decision against Bobby Telford to give Minnesota the 16-15 win and propel it to the finals.
The comeback was necessary because much like the Gophers dual against the Hawkeyes earlier this season, Minnesota lost its first three matches of the dual.
Sanders lost again to Iowa’s Matt McDonough 7-4 in a battle of the top-two 125-pounders in the country. Sanders’ career record against McDonough is now 0-6.
“I think that Sanders wrestled a great match,” Robinson said. “He took McDonough down today; he got away from him twice. McDonough kind of held on for a win, and that’s just what Sanders needs — a confidence-builder going into the Big Ten and the National tournament.”
Freshman Dylan Ness (149) won the first match of day for Minnesota and picked up a major decision against Iowa’s Mike Kelly. The bonus point Ness picked up turned out to be all the difference as it was the only bonus point in the dual. Minnesota and Iowa each won five matches.
The two teams went back and forth over the next couple matches; Iowa won 157 and 174, and Minnesota won at 165.
After 174, Minnesota trailed by eight points. Steinhaus, Sonny Yohn and Nelson all picked up decisions to seal the comeback win.
Three matches went to overtime. Chris Dardanes (133) and Nick Dardanes (141) both lost in the extra time — Cody Yohn recorded a takedown in the extra period to get a sudden-death 5-3 victory over Michael Evans. Yohn was pinned by Evans when the two faced off earlier in the season.
“I think the big one was Cody Yohn,” Robinson said. “It was a nine point swing. Last time he got pinned; this time he beat the kid.
“Cody’s win was a huge swing the other way.”
This was the first year the National Duals was played at the end of the season with regionals and a final four, a format Robinson had wanted for years. In past years, the duals were a mid-season tournament.
“I think it’s great from the fan’s standpoint,” Robinson said. “You say ‘we’re going to the National Duals,’ and everybody says, ‘OK, good luck.’ Then you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to the final four,’ and it gets people excited.
“The beauty of it is the finality of it. The season’s over … the dual meet part of it, so lets get on with the next part. But there’s some excitement for the fans, and there will be a lot of people talking about it.”
Minnesota will take a weekend off from competition before heading to the Big Ten championships March 3-4 in West Lafayette, Ind.
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