The fourth-ranked Golden Gopher wrestling team took on No. 8 Illinois Friday night at Williams Arena, with Illinois emerging the 19-17 victor. The Gophers (13-6, 4-2 Big Ten) were without normal starters C.P. Schlatter, Roger Kish and Justin Bronson, losing five of ten matches and surrendering bonus points twice.
Minnesota held a slim 17-13 lead going into the final two matches of the night (184 and 197 pounds) but Jeremy Larson and Yura Malamura both lost close decisions to give Illinois (12-3, 3-1) the win.
The Gophers did welcome back former NCAA champion and two-time All-American Dustin Schlatter at 149 pounds, as he defeated Illinois’ Grant Paswall 7-2. It was the first action for Schlatter since his Dec. 30 finals match at the Southern Scuffle. Schlatter controlled the pace of the match from the opening whistle and showed no ill signs from the hamstring injury that kept him out of action for more than six weeks.
Schlatter appears on track to defend his individual title at the Big Ten Championships, which will take place at Williams Arena March 8-9.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, the absences of No. 6 C.P. Schlatter (157 pounds) and No. 10 Kish (184) Friday night, who were held out of the competition due to nagging injuries, was too much to overcome.
The meet started at heavyweight, with redshirt freshman Ben Berhow taking on No. 15 John Wise of the Illini. Berhow held his own through two periods against the ranked wrestler (trailing 4-1 after five minutes). But Wise scored six points in the third to win a 10-2 major decision and put the Gophers in a 4-0 hole.
Top-ranked sophomore Jayson Ness helped Minnesota bounce back at 125 pounds in his match against No. 9 Gabe Flores. Ness, who pinned Flores twice last year, could not muster the fall Friday night but handily claimed a 9-0 major decision. Ness was perfect on the defensive side and scored takedowns in all three periods to even the dual meet score at four apiece. It was the 31st victory of the season for Ness and his 32nd straight dating back to last season.
Looking to keep the momentum, the Gophers sent out senior and fifth-ranked Mack Reiter at 133 pounds to take on No. 9 Jimmy Kennedy. The pair met during last season’s dual meet at Champaign (a 28-12 Gopher win), with Kennedy earning the 6-3 upset win. Friday night, neither wrestler could mount much offense through two periods. Kennedy spent the entire first period on top after scoring an early takedown, and it was Reiter that held the upper position for much of the second (only a late escape gave Kennedy a 3-0 lead). In the deciding period, Kennedy successfully eluded Reiter’s scoring attempts and cemented the win with a late takedown. The 6-0 loss dropped Reiter’s overall record to 18-5.
Senior Manny Rivera got the Gophers back on track at 141 with his 16-5 major decision win over No. 11 Ryan Prater. Rivera controlled the first frame after taking a 2-0 lead and nearly got a back on two separate occasions in the second. The third-ranked Rivera scored a whopping 11 points in the second period to take a 13-2 lead on the strength of two reversals and three nearfalls. Rivera cruised through the third to improve his overall record to 28-4.
The night’s most anticipated match was the one between Dustin Schlatter and Grant Paswall at 149 pounds. Schlatter was his lightning-quick self despite the long layoff, scoring a takedown in the first and two more in the second. Schlatter could not muster another score in the third period and walked away with the 8-2 decision. The Gophers entered the locker room at intermission leading 11-7.
The Gophers gave up big bonus points at 157 when Luke Mellmer was pinned by No. 2 Mike Poeta, but Tyler Safratowich helped Minnesota regain the lead in the dual (14-13) with a 11-4 decision over Clint Arlis. Safratowich, who made his debut in the USA Today/NWCA/InterMat rankings this week at No. 20, improved his dual meet record to 11-2 wit the win.
Minnesota needed a big win by senior Gabe Dretsch at 174 pounds and got it done. The 11th-ranked Dretsch won a close match against No. 15 John Dergo 7-2, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after two periods and hanging on for the victory. The win put Minnesota up 17-13 in the meet.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the four-point lead was not enough to avoid the loss. Larson, a senior wrestling two weight classes higher than normal, simply could not mount any offense against the heavier Ben Friedl of Illinois (losing 4-1), and Malamura was held without a takedown in his 8-2 loss to No. 11 Patrick Bond.
The loss marks the first time since 2004-05 that the Gophers have dropped more than one Big Ten dual meet in the same season. Minnesota is now 0-3 in Williams Arena (they are 2-0 in the Sports Pavilion).
Minnesota has another home meet on Sunday as they welcome the No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers to Williams Arena. The Gophers beat the Badgers 28-12 last season in Madison, snapping a two-meet losing streak. That competition will get underway at 2 p.m.
#8 Illinois 19, #4 Minnesota 17
Hwt. - #15 John Wise (ILL) maj. dec. Ben Berhow (MINN), 10-2
125 - #9 Jayson Ness (MINN) maj. dec. #9 Gabe Flores, 9-0
133 - #9 Jimmy Kennedy (ILL) dec. #5 Mack Reiter (MINN), 6-0
141 - #3 Manny Rivera (MINN) maj. dec. #11 Ryan Prater (ILL), 16-5
149 - #3 Dustin Schlatter (MINN) dec. Grant Paswall (ILL), 8-2
157 - #2 Mike Poeta (ILL) pinned Luke Mellmer (MINN), 4:00
165 - #20 Tyler Safratowich (MINN) dec. Clint Arlis (ILL), 11-4
174 - #11 Gabe Dretsch (MINN) dec. #15 John Dergo (ILL), 7-2
184 Ben Friedl (ILL) dec. Jeremy Larson (MINN), 4-1
197 #11 Patrick Bond (ILL) dec. Yura Malamura (MINN) 8-2