With only two weeks remaining in the regular season before the No. 7 Gophers (13-3, 6-2) host the Big Ten Championships, there are a lot of bright spots for the team.
One such spot is the success of four wrestlers who moved into different weight classes this season. No. 5 in 133 Ethan Lizak, No. 10 in 141 Mitch McKee, No. 27 in 149 Tommy Thorn and No. 12 at 157 Steve Bleise have all made a smooth transition up in class and have helped put the Gophers in the country's top ten.
"[They've] done a good job, and we've been [successful] in those weight classes," said head coach Brandon Eggum.
Eggum, alongside his coaching staff and wrestlers, decided last season that the four would move up. Having No. 8 Sean Russell transfer to the program and fill in the roster at 125 solidified the moves.
"We talked about it last year, and a lot of our lower guys pulled a lot of weight," Bleise said. "We all just thought it would be more beneficial if we all moved up."
Bleise, along with Lizak, McKee and Thorn, said wrestling at higher weight classes helps them focus on their technique rather than on shedding weight.
"You know, the extra eight pounds is a big difference," McKee said. "I can get a lot more out of [my workouts] this season not having to focus on weight."
As the weigh-in period has gotten closer and closer to the dual over the years, Eggum said team-wide weight changes happen more often than they used to. He added that wrestlers generally perform better when they move up.
"You see a lot of guys hit the wall, then they are dehydrated and pulling weight," Eggum said. "You see [moving up] being a positive move in wrestling a lot of the times, as long as they are strong."
Lizak said the news that he was moving up was music to his ears.
"I was kind of excited to go up a class because I get to eat a little more," Lizak said.
Even though the wrestlers are in their first year at a higher weight, they said there was not much of a transition.
"It was a little different between 141 and , but for the most part it's the same thing. You're just out there battling," Thorn said.
Eggum said their skills helped ease the transition.
"We were confident in our wrestlers. They are some of the top-ranked wrestlers in the country, and we know their skills and techniques are good," Eggum said.
So far this season, Lizak is 22-4, McKee is 14-3, Thorn is 14-8 and Bleise is 14-4. But just like before the weight transition, there is only one goal in their minds.
"Obviously, I still expect to win no matter what," Bleise said.
The Gophers return to action Sunday when they host the Indiana Hoosiers.
Erik Nelson contributed to this story.