A lot of elite wrestlers have walked the campus for the Gophers wrestling program. Tony Nelson’s name is now definitely on that list. Nelson repeated as the NCAA heavyweight champion over the weekend at the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa. “He wrestled very well,” head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “He seemed composed throughout the tournament.” Minnesota finished third as a team behind Penn State and Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lions won their third straight NCAA title.
The top-ranked Gophers wrestling team has made a name for itself all season, dominating in the upper weights of competition. It got a taste of its own medicine over the weekend at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Ill. Penn State won four straight individual titles from 165 to 197 pounds Sunday to run away with the Big Ten team title for the third straight season. The Gophers placed second to Penn State for the second year in a row.
Scott Schiller will compete in his first Big Ten tournament this weekend in Champaign, Ill. Schiller, a redshirt sophomore from West Fargo, N.D., has been key to the Gophers’ success this season, his first as a starter. He has been a main cog in Minnesota’s four-person anchor to dual meets. The Gophers’ four upper weights — Logan Storley, Kevin Steinhaus, Schiller and defending NCAA champion Tony Nelson — have not lost since the Southern Scuffle in early January.
Logan Storley had big shoes to fill as a seventh grader wrestling at Webster High School in South Dakota. Those expectations followed him four hours east of home to the University of Minnesota last year. Storley, the top 174-pound college wrestler in the nation as a sophomore, hails from the same hometown as Brock Lesnar, a former NCAA champion with the Gophers. Lesnar was also a feared champion in the World Wrestling Entertainment and Ultimate Fighting Championship realms.
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.
The toughest part of the season — a month-long stretch packed with three national tournaments and everything on the line — is finally here for the Gophers wrestling squad. Minnesota will compete at the National Duals this weekend before battling for a Big Ten title in a few weeks and an NCAA championship in a month. Winning the National Duals doesn’t hold the same prestige as a Big Ten or NCAA title, but it’s the last true dual meet of the season.
Minnesota continued to prove the Gophers-Badgers rivalry doesn’t really exist in wrestling Sunday in Madison, Wis. The Gophers coasted to a 34-5 win at Wisconsin in their final Big Ten dual of the season. It was Minnesota’s third straight win against the Badgers and second blowout in as many years. Minnesota has now won two straight matches in impressive fashion after a midseason loss to Iowa two weeks ago.
It was never a hard choice for current Gophers 157-pound starter Danny Zilverberg. He comes from a long line of success with the Gophers. His father wrestled at Minnesota, and his two uncles were All-American wrestlers with the program. Even his older brother, David Zilverberg, was a part of the long-storied family tradition. So when it came time for him to pick a college? “There was really no other choice than Minnesota,” Danny Zilverberg said. “It’s kind of been a goal all my life.”
Cody Yohn took a long stare at the crowd, waved his arms and headed to the locker room at the Sports Pavilion for the final time. He had just recorded a pin on Senior Day — the first at home in his career — and after the match, he admitted his emotions started to kick in. “It was my last hurrah, and to have a match like I did coming off a pin was definitely something I’ll remember forever,” Yohn said after the No. 4 Gophers’ 32-6 win over unranked Michigan State on Sunday.
Minnesota boasted the No. 1 wrestling recruiting class in 2008, according to InterMat. It featured nine wrestlers that were well-respected in their high school realms. Five years later, three wrestlers from that class remain. Some transferred, and others quit. Jake Deitchler, who headlined the 2008 class, was forced to retire last season because of recurring concussions. Cody Yohn (165 pounds), Matt Mincey (149) and Thane Antczak (133) have stuck with the Gophers, but Sunday against Michigan State will mark the end of an era.
Joel Bauman is not a rapper, and he’s very clear about that. Bauman, a competitor at 197 pounds for the Gophers wrestling team, identifies himself in various ways. “I’m vulnerable, passionate and determined,” Bauman said. “I am an individual, and my goal is to inspire. I will inspire.” His self-description includes nothing about being a rapper. That doesn’t mean he’s not good at it. And he’s using that skill to his advantage.
The Gophers won four straight matches to close out a dual for the second week in a row Saturday. It wasn’t enough to pull out a win this time around, as No. 3 Minnesota lost in a tiebreaker to No. 4 Iowa at Williams Arena. Tony Nelson found himself in a familiar position Saturday. He completed the Gophers’ comeback last week against Illinois and was in position to do so again against the Hawkeyes. He marched out of the tunnel with his team behind 15-12 on the scoreboard. He said he knew he needed a bonus to pull out the dual win.
In the late 1990s, the Gophers wrestling team was on the verge of a major breakthrough. Minnesota’s hardnosed squad allowed the team to contend with nearly every program in the nation, but Iowa was a conundrum it could not solve on the big stage. Then in 1999, wrestler Brandon Eggum and his team busted down the door and took a seat among the Big Ten’s best. “We beat Iowa in the Big Ten finals,” said Eggum, who is now an assistant coach for the Gophers. “It was a big step for us as a program. That was the breakthrough.”
Scott Schiller entered his bout with Illinois’ Mario Gonzalez at 197 pounds as the underdog with his Gophers squad trailing 14-12 on Monday at the Sports Pavilion. A win would put the Gophers in front by one point with heavyweight Tony Nelson waiting to close out the team dual. Schiller said he was aware of the circumstances, but that he tried to stick to his game plan.
The Gophers wrestling team bounced back from its first loss a week ago with two wins at the Sports Pavilion over the weekend. The weekend sweep was no easy task, though. Minnesota dominated Northwestern 33-7 on Friday night but needed a dramatic win in the final match Saturday to beat Oregon State. With the score tied 18-18, defending national heavyweight champion Tony Nelson stepped onto the mat for the Gophers. His opponent was the mammoth Chad Hanke from the Beavers.
Jayson Ness sent a letter to J Robinson as a child that said he wanted to coach the Gophers. It was a small gesture at the time, one that Ness wasn’t sure Minnesota’s wrestling coach would recognize. But Robinson did. “Yeah, I remember that letter,” Robinson said with a grin. “I sent him a shirt and some other stuff after that.” Now, two years removed from his wrestling career at Minnesota, Ness has fulfilled his dream.
The Gophers had their first loss of the season to Oklahoma State a week ago, but they have otherwise dominated the first month of their season. And they may be getting better. Minnesota has competed without one of its best technical wrestlers in that time — a scary thought for other teams. Dylan Ness, the NCAA runner-up at 149 pounds last year, has missed the entire season with a back injury. He began to practice again two weeks ago, and head coach J Robinson said he hopes to have Ness back by the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1-2.
Minnesota wrestled without three starters Sunday, and Nick Dardanes lost a match slated as an automatic win on paper. That was a recipe for disaster against the third-ranked team in the nation. The Gophers fell 22-15 to Oklahoma State in a dual littered with missed opportunities. Still, head coach J Robinson didn’t make any excuses. “We had a chance … to win,” Robinson said. “We didn’t make it happen, and that’s just not acceptable.”
Top-ranked Minnesota has shot out to a 6-0 start this season, but when No. 3 Oklahoma State comes to town, the Cowboys will boast the long-term momentum. Though OSU has only competed in one match all season, it has lost to Minnesota only once since 2006. OSU defeated Minnesota in Stillwater, Okla., last season, and this weekend, the Gophers are looking for payback.