The beginning of any season brings high hopes and expectations.
For the Gophers wrestling team, which will begin the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, those high expectations aren’t unfounded.
Minnesota finished second at the NCAA championships in March, just behind Penn State.
“We all have the same goal — win a national title,” senior Logan Storley said. “We’ve been there. We’ve been leading the national tournament and came out in second two of the last three years, so I think this year ultimately we want to come home with the trophy at the end of March.”
Storley, who wrestles at 174 pounds, is the top-ranked wrestler in his class.
Redshirt senior Dylan Ness also begins the season ranked first in his weight class. He ended last season with a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.
“It’s driven me quite a bit this past summer and this fall. It still bothers me to this day, but all I can do is move forward and continue to improve,” Ness said.
The Gophers will have competition at 125, 149 and 165.
“Those are three of the weights that are probably most up in the air,” head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “If we can have guys fill those spots and do extremely well with our … returning All-Americans at the other weights, I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The Bison Open, the team’s first meet of the season, will give the Gophers an opportunity to gauge where they’re at for those weights. Eggum said they’ve always traditionally used it for their wrestle-offs.
“That’ll hopefully give us a good picture on who’s the front runner,” he said. “But … that’s the first tournament, and as the season continues, we’ve always left it open. To be the guy … you’ve got to be competing at a high level and scoring points for the team.”
Minnesota also graduated four All-Americans, including Kevin Steinhaus at 184 pounds and heavyweight Tony Nelson.
Nelson recorded a 131-16 record with Minnesota and was an NCAA champion in 2012.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Kroells is slated to replace Nelson.
Brett Pfarr, another redshirt sophomore, will fill Steinhaus’ role in the lineup.
Kroells finished last season 26-7, and Pfarr was 25-3.
“Those two guys will be key,” Eggum said. “They got some good wrestling time last season and had good results, so we’re really comfortable with where those guys are and believe they’ll do well.”
And the Gophers, with a relatively experienced lineup, should be in a good position to begin the season right where they left off.
“The NCAA tournament was really exciting for us. It was very disappointing [in the end],” Eggum said. “You get that taste, and you want to bring home the national title, so there’s no question the guys have been talking about it from day one of the end of last year to all the way up through preseason. It’s on our mind.”