The Gophers made a statement to the college wrestling world this weekend at Williams Arena as they repeated as National Duals champions.
No. 4 Minnesota avenged midseason losses to No. 2 Iowa and No. 1 Oklahoma State to win its second straight title.
This squad has preached that it wants to peak at the end of the season, and with the win, it appears to be on track. The Gophers (16-2) will compete in the Big Ten championships in a few weeks and the NCAA championships in late March.
“At this time of the year, it’s always good to have good momentum,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “That’s probably the biggest thing we take from it.”
The meet played out just like last year, when Minnesota beat Iowa and Oklahoma State after losing to them in the regular season.
This year, Minnesota beat Iowa in the semifinals with a dramatic but dominant performance.
The Gophers trailed 9-0 after two matches against the Hawkeyes. The match looked like it would take a similar path to the Gophers’ Jan. 26 loss, when Minnesota trailed Iowa 15-3 after six matches.
But sophomore Nick Dardanes changed the momentum with a major decision at 141 pounds, and sophomore Dylan Ness electrified the crowd with a pin in the next match at 149 pounds.
Ness entered his match as the favorite and said he brought a sense of urgency to his game plan with his team trailing in the dual.
“In my mind I was like, ‘I’m not coming off the mat until I get that fall,’” the redshirt sophomore said, “and I got the pin.”
That’s all the momentum the Gophers needed, as they won four of the next six matches for a 22-15 victory.
That set up a date with top-ranked Oklahoma State in the finals.
The teams split the first six matches with three wins apiece, which made the 174-pound bout especially important.
Logan Storley was up for the challenge.
Storley, a sophomore and the No. 1 ranked 174-pounder in the nation, battled No. 2 Chris Perry. It was quiet for most of the match, but in overtime Storley flipped Perry on his back for the defensive pin after starting on the bottom.
Storley said he couldn’t see the actual pin but knew he did something right when the home crowd roared.
“I heard the crowd, and Eggum was pointing and they called the fall,” he said with a grin. “I can’t argue with that.”
That pin sparked momentum for Minnesota, which closed the dual with three straight victories.
Junior Tony Nelson capped the Gophers’ title with a pin at heavyweight.
Junior Kevin Steinhaus, who is one of the leaders on the team, said the Gophers won’t forget this weekend for a while.
“It was great being at home and having the National Duals here,” Steinhaus said, “but to beat Iowa and Oklahoma State in the same day was a great feeling.”
Eggum said the team’s focus now shifts to the Big Ten championships March 9-10.
“It always makes it easier to keep the guys believing when we win,” Eggum said. “We got that tonight, and we’re going to ride on that a little bit.”