CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Gophers wrestling team had its chances to win Sunday’s Big Ten meet. Penn State had other plans.
The two-time defending national champions won a pair of head-to-head matches against the Gophers in Sunday’s finals at Illinois’ Assembly Hall.
Penn State finished first with 151 points, followed by Minnesota at 139. Iowa, which also had a chance going into Sunday’s matches, finished third with 133.5.
“We had some opportunities there at the end,” Gophers head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “If we win our last three matches, I think we could have won.
“This morning, the guys really wrestled very, very well. A lot of these guys outperformed their seeds. The way they finished and competed was impressive. Hopefully, we can get some good seeds here at the national tournament.”
While they didn’t get the big prize, the Gophers won a pair of individual titles Sunday. At 149 pounds, Dylan Ness scored his second pin of the meet, stopping Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn in 3:37.
“I’m always thinking bonus points for the team,” Ness said.
At one point in his match, Ness looked to be in danger of getting pinned.
“Dylan is always like that,” Eggum said. “As a coach, you pull your hair out watching him compete. But he’s calm as can be inside. If you start rolling around with him and you get in any kind of scramble, he ends up on top 99 percent of the time. And a lot of times, for a pin. That was a great start in the finals.”
Ness wasn’t nervous.
“I know I’m going to go for it,” Ness said. “I feel like they relax when they’ve got me on my back and that I’m going to give up. I know after I get off my back, the match isn’t going to be over.”
The final match of the day went to Minnesota too, with heavyweight Tony Nelson defeating Northwestern’s Mike McMullan 4-1.
The Gophers advanced all 10 wrestlers to the NCAA meet, scheduled for March 21-23 in Des Moines.
“We’ve got guys who can score points at all 10 weights,” Eggum said. “With the team event, it’s going to be crucial that each guy that goes down to the NCAA tournament puts some points on the board.”
One of Sunday’s losses came at 184 pounds, where Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus dropped a 5-3 decision to Penn State’s undefeated Ed Ruth, the Big Ten wrestler of the year.
“Steinhaus wrestled Ruth very, very well,” Eggum said.
If the Gophers hope to win the national tournament, they will need to outperform the Nittany Lions.
“They’ve got a great team,” Eggum said. “You can see their talent up and down the lineup as far as the blue chips they’ve pulled in. We proved this weekend we have some guys who are going to do very, very well.”
With the NCAA meet in nearby Des Moines, normally that would mean a big crowd of Gophers fans at Wells Fargo Arena. But the venue isn’t as large as recent NCAA wrestling sites.
“Great as far as travel and being close for our fans,” Eggum said. “Sad in the way that there are so many people who feel they can’t get tickets or that the price is so ungodly high because the venue doesn’t seat an appropriate amount of people.”