The No. 1 Gophers wrestling team looked poised to capture the Big Ten crown after the first session of the Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota was alone in first place and had nine wrestlers competing in semifinal matches.
The team slid Saturday night, though, losing eight of those nine semifinal matches.
It culminated in a somewhat disappointing third-place finish at the Big Ten tournament.
The Gophers finished with 114.5 points, behind Penn State (140.5) in first place and Iowa (134) in second place.
Minnesota senior heavyweight Tony Nelson was the only Gophers wrestler to advance to his respective championship bout. Nelson won the match and finished first in his weight class for the third straight year.
Nelson entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed after finishing the regular season with a 4-4 conference record.
His Big Ten title seems to make up for his four regular-season conference losses.
Nelson said he’s honored to have won three Big Ten championships.
“A lot of great guys have won three,” he said. “It’s cool to be a part of that group.”
The Gophers had four wrestlers in third place at the Big Ten tournament and three wrestlers in fourth.
All-America 157-pounder Dylan Ness finished sixth after he was forced to medically forfeit his final two matches.
Gophers senior 165-pounder Danny Zilverberg, whose No. 6 seed was the second-lowest of Minnesota wrestlers, earned a surprising third-place finish.
The senior from Wayzata said he’s always enjoyed wrestling in tournaments more than dual meets.
“They’ve always been my thing,” he said. “You win a match and get a little momentum rolling. It’s harder to get up for duals when you only wrestle one match.”
Gophers head assistant coach Brandon Eggum praised Zilverberg for the third-place finish.
“It was huge to have him gather some extra team points for us in a weight class he wasn’t favored in,” Eggum said.
Minnesota senior 184-pounder Kevin Steinhaus and senior 133-pounder David Thorn both lost their final two matches to finish fourth in their respective weight classes.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Thorn said, “but we qualified nine wrestlers for nationals, and I guess that’s what really matters.”
He said the team is ready to prove itself on the national stage at the NCAA tournament later this month.
“There’s been a lot of talk this year about how good Penn State is,” he said, “but everybody on this team wants a national title. And I think we can do it.”
Penn State qualified all 10 of its wrestlers for the NCAA tournament. Eggum said the Gophers will have to make adjustments to beat the Nittany Lions at the NCAA tournament.
Thorn seemed confident in his team’s chances.
“It’s just a question of getting excited and wrestling our best to achieve the goal we’ve had all year — winning a national title,” he said.