Sophomore heavyweight Rylee Streifel is in his first year as a starter for the No. 18 Gophers.
Despite a challenging schedule featuring many top ranked opponents, he's made strides.
Streifel has compiled a 5-8 dual record and is 8-9 overall. He’s done so while facing some of the best heavyweights in the country, including No. 2 Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder, No. 4 Michigan’s Adam Coon and No. 1 Penn State’s Nick Nevills.
“It has been a good year,” Streifel said. “I started out with quite a few wins and I was doing pretty well, but then the Big Ten season hit and it’s kind of a grueling schedule. There’s a lot of really good Big Ten heavyweights.”
Though Streifel has had success, his starting role will be tested next season. Gable Steveson, senior at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota and the 2016-17 All-USA Wrestler of the Year, will be a freshman next season and currently competes as a heavyweight.
However, head coach Brandon Eggum has been impressed with Streifel.
“He’s wrestled some of the best heavyweights in the country and I love the way that he doesn’t give respect [to his opponent] or expect that he can’t win these matches,” Eggum said. “He goes out there and wrestles a great match and his effort has been phenomenal.”
Steveson defeated Streifel 14-7 in the Daktronics Open on Nov. 5. The victory gave Steveson the heavyweight championship in the tournament. Eggum said it’s possible he may be an Olympian in 2020.
However, all options are still on the table, including potentially redshirting Steveson in his first year. Eggum insisted that Streifel has to continue to prepare as if he is the guy because anything could happen.
“There’s a lot of things that could happen,” Eggum said. “I think the most important thing is [Streifel] has to focus on himself and continue to get better, because you don’t know how things will change. Based on the nature of the sport, there’s a lot of things that can happen whether it’s just timing, injuries or if there’s a better situation to redshirt a guy like [Steveson]."
With uncertainty in his future, Streifel is doing what his coach wants him to do. He is focusing solely on himself.
Streifel has the goal of earning All-American honors this season. To do so, he will have to finish top-eight among heavyweight wrestlers in the NCAA Championships, which start on March 15. If he can accomplish his goal, Streifel will make next season's decision at heavyweight even more difficult.