Gophers Visit Rutgers in Top-15 Tilt

MINNEAPOLIS — No. 9 Minnesota (5-2, 0-2 B1G) is back on the road this weekend for a dual at No. 13 Rutgers (10-2, 3-1) on Saturday. The match starts at 12 p.m. CT and will be streamed on B1G+ with live results on StatBroadcast.com.

Minnesota has never lost to Rutgers in its history, winning all five dual matches between the schools. Rutgers is one of six active programs that Minnesota has faced at least five times and is undefeated against: Central Michigan (12-0), Cal State Bakersfield (11-0), Northern Illinois (10-0), Air Force (9-0) and Kent State (7-0).

The Golden Gophers have outscored the Scarlet Knights 103-73 in their five all-time matches, resulting in an average score of 20.6-14.6.

Minnesota has won all three series meetings in Piscataway, winning the first meeting between the schools in 2015, again in 2018, and the most recent matchup in 2021.

Similar to the overall series, Rutgers is one of five programs that the Golden Gophers have taken on at least three times on the road and are unbeaten against: North Dakota State (10-0), Northern Illinois (5-0), Cal Poly (3-0) and Cal State Bakersfield (3-0).

After dropping duals against No. 3 Iowa and No. 6 Nebraska to open conference action, Minnesota is looking to avoid its first three-match losing streak since falling in its last three duals of the 2019-20 campaign and the first of 2020-21.

Rutgers associate head coach Donny Pritzlaff was a member of the Wisconsin coaching staff, while Minnesota assistant coach Trevor Brandvold was a student-athlete (2007-11).

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BIG TEN WRESTLER OF THE WEEK
A pair of top-three victories last week has garnered Minnesota sixth-year senior Michael Blockhus Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors. Monday night in Iowa City, Blockhus, who was ranked 11th at 157 pounds at the time, upset No. 2 Jared Franek in a 5-4 decision. Franek led 4-1 through two periods and was up 4-2 with 20 seconds to go when Blockhus took him down and held on for the win. Friday against Nebraska, Blockhus, who had moved up to 10th in the Intermat rankings, added a victory over No. 3 Peyton Robb, 12-6. Blockhus is the first Gopher to be named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week since Michial Foy earned the honor on Dec. 1, 2022.

LAST MEETING WITH RUTGERS
Competing in a tri-meet that also included a 32-4 victory over No. 18 Purdue, Minnesota was victorious in its last meeting with Rutgers, defeating the 17th-ranked Scarlet Knights, 21-18, on Jan. 31, 2021, in Piscataway.

Patrick McKee’s fall over Nic Aguilar gave Minnesota an early 6-0 lead, but the Scarlet Knights responded with three straight victories to take a 10-6 lead.

After Brayton Lee’s decision at 157, No. 15 Andrew Sparks gave the Gophers a 13-10 lead with a 13-3 major decision against Brett Donner at 165 pounds.

Following an upset at 174 pounds by tech fall, Rutgers took a 15-13 lead heading into the final three matches. Owen Webster’s 6-4 upset of John Poznanski at 184 pounds proved to be crucial as the Knights would regain the team lead following a win at 197 pounds.

That set it up for Gable Steveson to clinch the team victory. He wasted little time in collecting a 17-2 tech fall over Rutgers’ Boone McDermott.

RANKED MATCHUPS
Based on the probable starters, there are scheduled to be four ranked matchups on Saturday, according to Intermat’s latest rankings, with the possibility of six in total.

At 125 pounds, No. 11 Patrick McKee faces off with No. 16 Dean Peterson. They have met once before at the 2023 NCAA Championships when Petersen won by a 6-4 decision, ending McKee’s season. McKee is coming off an 18-2 tech fall Friday of Nebraska’s Caleb Smith, who was ranked seventh at the time.

At 141 pounds, No. 21 Vance VomBaur is set to face 20th-ranked Mitch Moore. VomBaur has two ranked wins on the season, tied for second on the team. VomBaur is 0-2 in the Big Ten this season but both losses have come to wrestlers ranked eighth or higher.

No. 24 Garrett Joles takes on No. 9 John Poznanski at 197 pounds. Joles is 12-6 on the season and 1-6 against ranked opponents. His win came against No. 28 Jack Wehmeyer of Columbia at the Soldier Salute in late December.

At heavyweight, No. 29 Bennett Tabor is scheduled to face seventh-ranked Yaraslau Slavikouski. Tabor, who is looking for his first Big Ten win, has faced just one ranked opponent this season, falling to then-No. 31 Chad Nix of George Mason in mid-November.

Ranked matchups might also take place at 133 pounds between No. 26 Tyler Wells and No. 8 Dylan Shawver and at 184 pounds, where No. 6 Isaiah Salazar could face No. 22 Brian Soldano.

Wells is 1-0 against ranked opponents this season, including an 11-5 decision over then-No. 17 Kurt Phipps of Bucknell on Nov. 16. A winner of four straight matches, Wells is 2-0 to start his Big Ten dual career.

Salazar is coming off his first match against a ranked opponent, defeating then-No. 3 Lenny Pinto of Nebraska, 4-1, Friday night. Salazar and Soldano have met once before, with Salazar prevailing at last year’s Big Ten Championships in a 3-0 decision.

IN THE POLLS
The Golden Gophers stayed put at No. 9 in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll. Minnesota is also 12th in the WIN Tournament Power Index and tied for 17th in the Intermat TPI.

Ten Gopher wrestlers are ranked in at least two of the major polls (Intermat, WIN, Flo, OpenMat, Coaches), while seven appear in at least three, and four are in at least four of the polls.

Patrick McKee (125 pounds), Vance VomBaur (141), and Isaiah Salazar (184) lead the way by appearing in all five. Salazar appears in the Top 10 in all five polls, ranking fifth by OpenMat, sixth by WIN, InterMat, and Flo, and 10th by the NCAA Coaches.

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