Minnesota found itself ahead of Northwestern 18-14 with one match remaining, but a pin in the final competition proved to be costly.
Sophomore Ben Brancale was pinned in the first period of his match as No. 14 Minnesota (5-5, 2-3 Big Ten) lost to No. 20 Northwestern (8-2, 3-2 Big Ten) 20-18 Sunday afternoon at Maturi Pavilion. The Gophers suffered their third straight loss.
“That guy [Brancale] was wrestling at 149 is very tough and [Brancale] has to weigh in at basically 141 pounds and then go out and wrestle against one of the top ranked guys in the country,” head coach Brandon Eggum said. “[He] got caught pretty tight there at the end and I’m sure he feels a lot of weight on his shoulders, but it wasn’t one guy.”
Minnesota won five out of the 10 matches in the dual. Junior Brandon Krone came back from trailing 4-2 after two periods to win an 8-4 decision and secure the first victory at 197 of his career. He received a large roar of approval from the Maturi Pavilion crowd.
“[The win] felt nice because it’s been kind of challenging,” Krone said. “It’s nice to know that I can have success here. [The roar of the crowd] is good. It’s refreshing. It’s better than [the crowd] not going crazy.”
Two of the three seniors in the lineup earned victories on senior day. Jake Short won an 18-6 major decision at 157. Nick Wanzek won a 14-3 major decision at 165. With it being senior day, winning his match meant a bit more to Short, but he was still sad about the loss.
“It was a good experience,” Short said. “It was good to come out here and leave it all on the mat for my last match at home. It kind of sucks at the same time, though. It’s a tough loss and a couple of guys, including myself, could have picked up one more bonus point here and there, and maybe we would have won that match.”
The loss was the Gophers’ third consecutive and fourth in their last five outings.
Even with the recent stretch, the head coach isn’t worried as Eggum points to the team not being healthy. Minnesota was missing four of their starters including No. 6 Ethan Lizak at 125, No. 20 Steve Bleise at 149, No. 19 Owen Webster at 184, and Bobby Steveson at 197. Eggum believes if his team gets healthy, it will match up a lot better with the top teams in the nation come March.
“It’s tough in the Big Ten, when you have four starters out,” Eggum said.
Minnesota will hope to get some starters back and break out of their skid when they travel to take on Iowa on Feb. 2.