Final Road Trip Sends Minnesota to Illinois, Purdue

MINNEAPOLIS — No. 11 Minnesota (8-2, 3-2 B1G) embarks on its final road trip of the regular season this weekend. Friday night at 7 p.m., the Gophers visit Illinois (3-7, 0-4), while the team travels to Purdue (5-8, 0-5) Sunday at 11 a.m. Both duals will stream on B1G+ (Illinois | Purdue), while live results from Sunday’s matchup can be found on TrackWrestling.com.

Despite last weekend’s wins over Maryland and Northwestern, the Golden Gophers dropped one spot to No. 11 in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll. Minnesota is also 14th in the WIN Tournament Power Index and 16th in the Intermat TPI.

Ten Gopher wrestlers are ranked in at least one of the major polls (Intermat, WIN, Flo, OpenMat, Coaches), while seven appear in at least three, and five 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 fourth by OpenMat and WIN, fifth by InterMat and Flo, and 10th by the NCAA Coaches. Michael Blockhus (149) was not included in the initial Coaches Rankings but appears in the top four of the other four polls, including No. 2 in WIN’s rankings.

Minnesota started the year 5-0 in the dual season for the second straight season. Prior to that, it had not happened since the Gophers opened the 2014-15 campaign with ten straight dual wins. When the Gophers moved to Big Ten action, they started with losses to then-No. 3 Iowa and then-No. 6 Nebraska but have since responded with three straight conference wins over then-No. 13 Rutgers, Maryland, and Northwestern.

Last weekend, Minnesota swept the Terrapins and Wildcats in Maturi Pavilion by a combined score of 69-6, beating Maryland 30-6 and shutting out Northwestern 39-0. The latter victory was the second shutout of the season for Minnesota and its first over a conference opponent since a 48-0 win against Maryland in 2021. It’s just the second time in the last 22 years that Minnesota has posted two shutouts in the same season. The last time it happened came in 2018-19, and prior to that, it had not occurred since 2001-02.

FACING ILLINOIS
Minnesota is 36-21-2 all-time against Illinois, including five straight wins. The Gophers have won those five meetings by a combined score of 114-63, or an average of 22.8-12.6. Dating to the 2009-10 season, Minnesota has won 10 of the past 11 meetings in the series.

In Champaign, the Gophers own a 13-4-1 advantage in the all-time series, including wins in the last two matchups in 2019 and 2022.

Minnesota and Illinois have two common opponents this season in Iowa and Nebraska, with both schools losing to each. The Gophers fell to the Hawkeyes, 22-9, on Jan. 15, and 19-14 to the Huskers on Jan. 19. The Illini lost at Iowa, 36-6, on Jan. 26 and at Nebraska, 28-9, last Sunday.

LAST MEETING WITH THE ILLINI
A trio of upset wins fueled the Gophers’ 24-9 rout of Illinois when the teams met last season in Minneapolis.

Trailing 3-0 after Sebas Swiggum’s 11-6 setback to No. 14 Michael Carr, Cael Carlson put the Gophers on the board at 165 pounds as he stepped into the lineup to knock off No. 19 Danny Braunagel by a 2-1 decision. Bailee O’Reilly kept Minnesota rolling with a statement win at 174 pounds against 10th-ranked Edmond Ruth, putting a halt to Ruth’s 20-match win streak.

Isaiah Salazar followed with a 3-2 decision against Dylan Connell. After a narrow at 197, Garrett Joles put the Gophers back on track in the second half with a 7-3 win over Matt Wroblewski.

Patrick McKee looked dominant in his bout at 125 pounds as he dominated Maximo Renteria by a 14-2 major decision. After a loss at 133 by Jake Gliva to No. 10 Lucas Byrd, 3-1, 141-pounder Jake Bergeland earned a 12-2 upset over No. 9 Danny Pucino.

Michael Blockhus closed out the dual with his own major decision in a 14-4 victory over the Fighting Illini’s Jake Harrier.

RANKED ILLINOIS MATCHUPS
Based on the probable starters, there is scheduled to be one ranked matchup on Friday, with the possibility of four in total, according to Intermat’s latest rankings.

At 141 pounds, No. 20 Vance VomBaur is set to face 26th-ranked Danny Pucino. VomBaur has three ranked wins on the season, second most on the team. He is 2-3 in the Big Ten this season, with all three losses coming to wrestlers ranked 20th or higher.

No. 27 Blaine Brenner takes on No. 33 Chris Moore at 165 pounds. Brenner is 1-5 against ranked opponents this season, with his win coming over then-No. 19 Tanner Cook of South Dakota State on Nov. 26. Brenner has won three straight.

Ranked matchups might also take place at 133 pounds between No. 18 Tyler Wells and No. 30 Tony Madrigal, as well as at 184 pounds with No. 5 Isaiah Salazar versus No. 31 Dylan Connell.

Wells is 2-1 against ranked opponents this season with an 11-5 decision over then-No. 17 Kurt Phipps of Bucknell on Nov. 16, as well as a 5-2 SV1 win over then-No. 8 Dylan Shawver at Rutgers on Jan. 27. Wells’ first ranked loss came Friday night against Maryland’s Braxton Brown, who was ranked 21st at the time of the dual.

Salazar has won both of his ranked matchups this season, taking down then-No. 3 Lenny Pinto of Nebraska, 4-1, on Jan. 19, and then-No. 33 Troy Fisher of Northwestern Sunday, 8-3. Salazar and Connell met last year during the regular season, with Salazar prevailing 3-2.

FACING PURDUE
Minnesota is 42-9-2 all-time against Purdue. The .811 all-time win percentage is Minnesota’s second-best against any opponent it has faced at least 40 times. The only better percentage comes against Indiana (.898, 48-5-1).

The Gophers have won 13 of the last 14 matchups dating to the 2004-05 season, including 12 straight from 2003-04 to 2020-21.

In West Lafayette, Minnesota, is 16-4 all-time against Purdue. The 16 road wins are the second most for Minnesota against one school, trailing only the 17 it has against Indiana.

The Boilermakers prevailed when the teams last met in West Lafayette in 2022, but prior to that, the Gophers had won 10 in a row at Purdue.

Entering the weekend, Minnesota and Purdue have four common opponents this season in North Dakota State, Rutgers, Iowa, and Nebraska. The Gophers have gone 2-2 against the group with wins over the Bison and Scarlet Knights, while the Boilermakers are 0-4 against the same teams.

Purdue has one Minnesotan on its roster: 149-pounder Trey Kruse. He is from Stillwater and was teammates with Gopher redshirt freshman Hunter Lyden at Stillwater High School.

Purdue’s Matt Ramos (125) spent two seasons at Minnesota but did not compete for the Gophers. He took a medical redshirt in 2019-20 and an Olympic redshirt in 2020-21. Fellow Boilermaker Marcos Polanco (149) also began his career at Minnesota, competing for the Gophers from 2019-20 through last season. A 2021 NCAA qualifier, Polanco was 25-23 in his Minnesota career with a 6-6 mark in duals.

Purdue assistant coach Leroy Vega was a three-time All-American at Minnesota (1999-02) and was Big Ten champion at 125 pounds in 2002.

LAST MEETING WITH PURDUE
When the teams met a year ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota trailed 9-7 at halftime but rattled off four straight wins after intermission to clinch the dual win, 20-12.

The dual kicked off at 125 pounds, where Patrick McKee would fall via decision to Matt Ramos, 4-2, but Jake Gliva put Minnesota on the board with a 4-2 decision over Dustin Norris.

After another loss at 141, Michael Blockhus posted a 13-4 major decision win over Jaden Reynolds at 149 before a loss at 157.

Out of the halftime break, Andrew Sparks claimed a 4-0 win over Stoney Buel at 165 pounds. Bailee O’Reilly and Isaiah Salazar continued the Gophers’ match win streak with decision wins of their own. O’Reilly beat Cooper Noehre, 8-3, while Salazar topped Ben Vanadia, 10-3.

At 197 pounds, Michial Foy turned in a 13-5 major decision, while Garrett Joles closed out the dual at heavyweight in a 5-3 decision to Hayden Copass.

RANKED BOILERMAKER MATCHUPS
Based on the probable starters, one ranked matchup, according to Intermat’s latest rankings, is scheduled for Sunday, with the possibility of four in total.

At 165 pounds, No. 27 Blaine Brenner faces off with No. 32 Stoney Buell. As previously noted, Brenner enters the weekend 16-7 on the season, with five of those seven losses coming to ranked opponents. He has one ranked victory on the season, topping then-No. 19 Tanner Cook of South Dakota State on Nov. 26.

Ranked matchups might also take place at 125 pounds with No. 12 Patrick McKee versus No. 1 Matt Ramos, 149 pounds between No. 20 Vance VomBaur and No. 32 Greyson Clark, as well as at 157 pounds between No. 4 Michael Blockhus and No. 20 Joey Blaze.

McKee is 1-4 against ranked opponents this season, highlighted by an 18-2 tech fall over then-No. 7 Caleb Smith of Nebraska on Jan. 19. McKee and Ramos, a former Gopher, have met twice in their careers, with Ramos winning twice last year: 4-2 in the regular season, and 2-1 at the Big Ten Championships.

Gophers are 0-3 against top-ranked wrestlers this year, with Ben Lunn (15-0) and Vance VomBaur (5-2) both falling to Real Woods at 141 pounds, while Drew Roberts lost 11-0 to Ridge Lovett at 149 pounds.

VomBaur has three ranked wins this season, second most on the team to only Michael Blockhus’ five. VomBaur has beaten wrestlers ranked 7th, 17th, and 18th at the time of the match.

Blockhus has won all five matches against ranked opponents this year, leading the team in ranked wins. Four of his five wins have come against wrestlers ranked 18th or better, including successive wins over the 2nd and 3rd-ranked wrestlers at the time. He beat No. 2 Jared Franek of Iowa, 5-4, then came back later in the same week to top No. 3 Peyton Robb of Nebraska, 12-6.

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