The wrestlers in Minnesota’s five lower weights have had to overcome a lot during the beginning of the season.
Only one wrestler who has made a start in the Gophers’ 125, 133, 141, 149 and 157-weight classes is an upperclassman, and the team overall has started their dual schedule with matchups against No. 20 South Dakota State and No. 1 Oklahoma State.
The group is also down a couple of key players. Ethan Lizak at 125 and Tommy Thorn at 141 are suspended until Jan. 1 for team rule violations.
As a result, the lower weight group is 1-9 in duals to start the season, and has a tough road ahead with matchups against No. 10 Michigan and No. 2 Penn State.
“We kind of just got thrown into the frying pan right away,” said redshirt freshman Gannon Volk, who wrestles at 141, Thorn’s weight. “We’re getting used to it now.”
With the tough schedule, interim head coach Brandon Eggum said it isn’t always about the results, but more so about progress from the lower weights.
The Gophers were outscored 50-14 in the lower weights and lost to Oklahoma State 34-3. Redshirt sophomore Skyler Petry, Lizak’s replacement at 125, has been outscored this season 25-2 in the two duals.
“We got a very physical, brutal schedule,” Eggum said. “It’s early so the big thing to see every week if you can see areas that [the lower weights] are improving in.”
Lizak and Thorn would’ve been helpful for the lower weights. Both were NCAA-qualifiers in 2016.
Volk replaced Thorn at 141 to start the season and represents the only lower weight to have won an individual matchup this season.
His only loss came against No. 1 Dean Heil of Oklahoma State.
Volk said the group has adjusted to the suspensions of Lizak and Thorn already.
“I think some guys have stepped up,” Volk said. “They’re filling in good until the time comes when the other guys come back.”
While Volk is the only lower weight to win a match this year, there have been encouraging signs from other wrestlers.
Redshirt freshman Fredy Stroker lost by a thin margin to No. 3 Anthony Collica of Oklahoma State at 149 6-4 Sunday.
Eggum highlighted Stroker’s close loss against Collica and said it’s encouraging for the future of the lower weights this season.
“[The lower weights] are doing a good job … they’re filling their role.” Eggum said. “There were some positives [against Oklahoma State].”
Stroker said that when the suspended wrestlers come back, it will add a different element to the team, but they’ve been fine so far.
“I think we’ve been alright,” Stroker said. “We have capable guys that are wrestling now … hopefully [the suspended wrestlers] will be ready to go when the time comes.”