For the first time in nearly three weeks, No. 17 Minnesota (7-6, 3-2) will leave the comfort of home and hit the road for a Big Ten dual this Friday night when the Gophers head to Iowa City to take on No. 2 Iowa (13-0, 7-0) and renew one of the most storied rivalries in college wrestling.
Minnesota arrives in Iowa having won back-to-back duals to get both its overall and conference record above .500 for the year. The first of those two victories came in an upset over No. 8 Rutgers two weeks ago, followed by a come-from-behind win over Purdue last Sunday at the Sports Pavilion. After falling behind 15-3 through four matches, the Gophers won the next five, beginning with a pair of major decisions from Brett Pfarr and Michael Kroells, followed by decisions from Steve Polakowski and Tommy Thorn sandwiching a dramatic, first-period pin from Ben Morgan in his Gopher debut. That 23-18 win gave Minnesota consecutive dual victories for the first time since early November.
Iowa will step onto the home mat looking to remain undefeated this season. The Hawkeyes have built a perfect record by allowing only four opponents to score double-digits against them: Oklahoma State (16), South Dakota State (15), Illinois (12) and Nebraska (11), which Iowa defeated last Sunday, 21-11, in Lincoln. The Hawkeyes 18-16 win over Oklahoma State at Kinnick Stadium to open the season is the closest contest the Hawks have wrestled this season. They have defeated every other team they have faced by 10 or more points. Iowa has shut out as many teams as it has allowed to reach 10 or more points.
Friday night is just 364 days removed from the last meeting between the Gophers in Hawkeyes, a dual at Williams Arena that drew a crowd of more than 13,000. Starting at 165 pounds, Iowa picked up the first three wins of the meet and built a quick, 12-0 lead. Minnesota went on to win four of the remaining seven matches, but the early deficit proved too much to overcome and the Gophers fell, 23-12. Minnesota will return four starters from that dual: Jake Short, Brandon Kingsley, Brett Pfarr and Michael Kroells, though only Short and Kroells return at the same weight as last year. Meanwhile, five of Iowa starters last year will be back in action this year: Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Brandon Sorensen, Sammy Brooks and Nathan Burak.
Despite nearly half of last year’s competitors returning for this year’s dual, there is only one expected rematch from last season. That comes at 149 pounds between Short and Sorensen. Sorensen defeated Short, 4-0, at the Barn last year, and added a victory by injury default over Short at the Big Ten Championships. Beyond 149, three other potential Friday night matches have previous college-level history, all from last year’s Luther Open. In that tournament, Tommy Thorn defeated Topher Carton, 6-2, Patrick Rhoads defeated Dylan Urbach, 11-10, and Gilman defeated Skyler Petry, 16-5. All three of those Gophers were redshirting freshmen at that event.
Up to 12 of the two teams’ 20 wrestlers will bring a national ranking to Friday night’s matches – four for Minnesota, eight for Iowa. That collection will produce three ranked-versus-ranked matchups. The Short/Sorensen match will feature No. 13 versus No. 2, respectively. At 197, a top-five battle will pit No. 4 Brett Pfarr against No. 3 Burak, followed by a top-ten tilt at heavyweight between No. 9 Kroells and No. 7 Sam Stoll. For Pfarr, Friday will be his fifth match against a top-five opponent this season. He is 2-2 in those matches so far.
Friday night’s matchup will be the 101st in the storied series between the Gophers and the Hawkeyes, a rivalry that dates back to 1921. Through 100 contests, Minnesota is 28-71-1 against Iowa, with 13 of those wins coming during J Robinson’s tenure. The Gophers have won two of the last three and three of the last five duals against the Hawks.
The dual in Iowa City is the first of four straight road duals for the Gophers spanning the next three weekends to cap the team’s conference season. Minnesota has one more confirmed home date left on the schedule following the conclusion of the Big Ten season — Feb. 19 at Williams Arena, when the Gophers host Iowa State.
Fans can catch Friday night’s dual live on the Big Ten Network starting at 8 p.m. Central. As always, Gopher Wrestling will be providing mat-side updates throughout the dual on Twitter as well.