The top-ranked Gophers wrestling team has made a name for itself all season, dominating in the upper weights of competition.
It got a taste of its own medicine over the weekend at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Ill.
Penn State won four straight individual titles from 165 to 197 pounds Sunday to run away with the Big Ten team title for the third straight season.
The Gophers placed second to Penn State for the second year in a row.
Minnesota was in contention with Penn State and Iowa for the team title most of Sunday, but the Nittany Lions’ run through the back half of the tournament proved to be the difference.
The Gophers finished with 139 team points, 12 points behind Penn State and 5.5 points ahead of Iowa in third place.
“I know the guys aren’t happy with second place,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said, “but they realize they’re making good gains.”
Sophomore Dylan Ness and junior Tony Nelson made the biggest gains and collected individual titles for the Gophers. But top-ranked Logan Storley was upset on the first day, and the sophomore was forced to wrestle in the consolation bracket.
Minnesota trailed Penn State by 10.5 points after the first day of competition. It pulled even with Penn State after the 157-pound matches Sunday before the Nittany Lions made their run.
Nelson repeated as the Big Ten heavyweight champion in impressive fashion. He got to the finals with two shutout wins and handled his business in the finals against Mike McMullan of Northwestern.
Nelson allowed only one point to be scored against him over the weekend.
“He’s really difficult to score on. He can get away from people, and he can ride anybody,” Eggum said of Nelson. “He’s showing right now why he’s the No. 1 heavyweight in the nation.”
Ness dominated 149 pounds over the weekend en route to his first career Big Ten title. He had two pin fall victories, including a well-executed pin to defeat Jake Sueflohn of Nebraska in the title match.
Sueflohn looked to have the upper hand early in the second period, but Ness scrambled away, rolled Sueflohn over and got the pin.
“We’ve seen Dylan do that 100 times,” Eggum said. “It looks like he puts him in danger … but when he rolled him over we knew lights were going to be out.”
Sophomore Scott Schiller and junior Kevin Steinhaus captured second-place finishes, and sophomore Nick Dardanes and senior Cody Yohn placed third.
Storley was the biggest disappointment of the weekend for the Gophers. He entered as the top-ranked, 174-pound wrestler in the nation and No. 1 seed in the Big Ten, but he lost to No. 8 seed Dan Yates of Michigan in his first match of the weekend.
Storley, who had one loss all season before the tournament, lost in the consolation bracket as well and finished seventh in the Big Ten.
“He’s disappointed with that because he knew he could win that tournament,” Eggum said, “but he has to shake it off with the national tournament here in a couple weeks.”
Though some of his wrestlers underperformed, Eggum said he was satisfied with the way his team competed.
“We didn’t win, but the thing I saw … that we’re doing better than anyone in the country is our intensity,” Eggum said. “That is something that helped us in the National Duals and might again in the NCAA tournament.”
Minnesota, which won the National Duals two weeks ago, will compete at the NCAA championships March 21-23. The Gophers qualified all 10 wrestlers for the tournament for the first time since 2005.
“Nothing changes for us in that time,” Eggum said. “We’ve done the work, and our guys have shown they can compete with anybody in the nation.”