OKLAHOMA CITY – Minnesota’s 157-pounder Dylan Ness said he goes into every match hoping to set a tone and bring fire to his team.
Thursday, the stage was bigger and a spark more necessary. Ness said that didn’t change his thought process, but it could have aided the result.
In the opening session of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships, Minnesota’s Nick Dardanes, seeded second at 149 pounds, suffered the day’s biggest upset, losing to Citadel’s Matthew Frisch 8-5.
Ness wrestled the Gophers’ next match against Ohio State’s Spartak Chino and responded with a huge reverse into a pin to earn a victory.
In the second session, sixth-seeded Chris Dardanes, Nick’s twin brother, lost to Northern Iowa 141-pounder Joey Lazor.
Again, Ness wrestled the next match, and again, Ness won by fall, this time against Roger Pena of Oregon State.
Ness’ two victories make him one of six Gophers still contending for a national title and helped boost Minnesota into a tie for second place with Oklahoma State at 21.5 points.
“I know for the guys behind me, it can either be stressful or exciting to watch me,” Ness said. “It depends on which Dylan shows up. I try to make it the exciting one that gets wins. I was going to be looking for a fall and a win, no matter what.”
Penn State, the three-time defending national champion, closed the day in first with 26.5.
Despite Nick Dardanes’ upset in the opening session, the Gophers sent eight of nine wrestlers into the second session with victories.
Ness, David Thorn at 133, Logan Storley at 174, Kevin Steinhaus at 184, Scott Schiller at 197 and Tony Nelson at heavyweight each picked up second-round wins to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. Penn State has five in the quarterfinals.
Nelson, a two-time defending champion, provided more fireworks in the second round with a pin at 4:23 to beat Oregon State’s Amarveer Dhesi.
“I was a little sluggish on the start, but I was able to hang on with those handfights,” Nelson said. “He was coming after me with those shots in the second. He had a great shot, but I was able to defend it. He was tired on bottom and I could feel it, and then I knew [the pin] was there.”
Minnesota wasn’t counting on the Dardanes to lose, but the two bonus-point victories from Ness and one from Nelson helped keep the Gophers in good position.
“The weights below me, I don’t think they went out there like they wanted to, but there’s nothing we can do about it now but come back and keep wrestling through it,” Ness said.
Nick Dardanes won his wrestleback match and still could finish in third place. Others such as Nelson have serious shots at individual titles.
And after a day of peaks and valleys, some veteran expertise couldn’t hurt.
“I’ve done it before, and I believe and know I can do it again,” Nelson said. He edged Blaise Cabell of Northern Iowa 1-0 in his opening match.
“You can’t take it like it’s anything extra,” he said. “It’s a regular match; you go out there, you have fun, you compete. We’ve got [Saturday] and Sunday to decide it.”