The Gophers had their first loss of the season to Oklahoma State a week ago, but they have otherwise dominated the first month of their season.
And they may be getting better.
Minnesota has competed without one of its best technical wrestlers in that time — a scary thought for other teams.
Dylan Ness, the NCAA runner-up at 149 pounds last year, has missed the entire season with a back injury. He began to practice again two weeks ago, and head coach J Robinson said he hopes to have Ness back by the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1-2.
Seth Lange, a four-time high school state champion in South Dakota, has filled the void at 149 with Ness out.
Lange started the season at 157 pounds but cut weight to fill the hole in the roster.
“We haven’t talked too much, but I think he’s doing a great job,” Ness said. “He had to lose some weight to get down to 149 to fill that spot for the team.”
Lange has struggled at times in the ultra-competitive weight class, but he has displayed constant growth in his matches, assistant coach Brandon Eggum said.
“He’s getting better and better every week, and there is no doubt he can wrestle with some of the best guys in the nation,” Eggum said.
Lange wrestled last week against Jordan Oliver, the nation’s No. 1 wrestler at 149 pounds. Oliver handled Lange with relative ease and pinned him in the first round.
Lange said he wasn’t satisfied with his performance, but he said the loss motivated him to improve in the coming weeks.
Eggum said Ness will have to work for his spot at 149 because Lange has worked hard in his place.
“I’m going to have to work to take it back from Seth,” Ness said. “I need to work to get back in the spotlight … and get my focus back.”
Eggum said if Ness reclaims the starting role, Lange will have a chance to battle for a starting spot elsewhere.
Lange said he is trying not to think about losing his spot.
“I’m just wrestling like it’s my spot right now,” he said. “Dylan is a great wrestler, but I’m focused on myself.
“There are a couple matches that I wish I could have back,” he added.
Lange cited the battle against Oliver last week as one of those matches. He suffered a “stinger in his neck” early in the bout and was unable to recover.
Lange wasn’t the only middle weight that struggled against Oklahoma State.
Minnesota lost five-straight bouts from 141 to 174 pounds. It closed out the dual with three-straight wins, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit.
Robinson said the loss to Oklahoma State was “not acceptable.” He said competing against No. 12 Northwestern on Friday and No. 15 Oregon State on Saturday will help his squad rebound.
“It’s a chance for us to come back this week … and get back on track,” Robinson said. “We’ll go back to back, and it’ll be good for our guys.”
Both opponents are talented, but the Gophers will have the rankings edge in most weight classes.
“We didn’t wrestle the way we wanted to against Oklahoma State, so it’s going to be good for us to get back here and show our dominance,” Lange said.
Robinson said it’s important to enter the two-week holiday break on a high note with two wins this weekend.
Minnesota will also return 174-pounder Logan Storley after Christmas. Storley was injured at the Bison Quad on Nov. 24.