Big Ten tournament is step one for Gophers' Steveson
MINNEAPOLIS -- Gophers wrestling coach Brandon Eggum has sat down with Gable Steveson for detailed film sessions on how to combat opponents during his freshman season.
Eggum will dive into detailed strategies, while the heavyweight from Apple Valley responds with simple solutions.
“Well, it’s not that easy,” Eggum will tell Steveson.
“Then he wrestles,” Eggum said, “and it seems that easy sometimes.”
At 27-0 this season, Steveson is the nation’s top-ranked heavyweight going into the Big Ten championships Saturday and Sunday at Williams Arena.
If Steveson wins, he will become Minnesota’s first conference champion in any weight class since 133-pounder Chris Dardanes in 2015 and the first heavyweight since Tony Nelson in 2014.
“It would mean a lot,” Steveson said. “The program needs it, and I’m here to do it for them. We’ve got an amazing team, and I hope we come out with a Big Ten trophy.”
Eggum called the Big Ten meet a “ crazy mini national tournament.” Ten teams in the conference are ranked among the top 19 in the nation, according to InterMat.
Some Big Ten weight classes are filled top to bottom with the nation’s best, including heavyweight, where all eight seeded wrestlers are ranked among the top 14 in the country.
Behind Steveson, the next highest seeded heavyweights for the Big Ten tournament are: No. 2 Anthony Cassar of Penn State, No. 3 Mason Parris of Michigan and No. 4 Trent Hillger of Wisconsin.
“There is no doubt, I know (Steveson is) going to be challenged,” Eggum said. “But that’s why he came to the Big Ten Conference. He wants to be the best in the world.”
Steveson said he’s learned to train harder now that the level of competition has increased in the Big Ten. He has Nelson to work with in practice.
“Coming in here, I’m wrestling grown men, like 23 years old,” Steveson said. “These guys got wives and kids almost.”
Steveson said a simplistic approach has been helpful because “not everybody is going to come out there and hit you with some fireworks. You got to know the basics and you got to know the one-twos of it.”
In film sessions, Steveson benefits from Eggum’s insights of seeing different angles on what he has done right and wrong.
The Gophers are one of five programs with seeded wrestlers this weekend in all 10 weight classes. In addition to Steveson, the U’s top seeds are No. 3 Sean Russell at 125 pounds, No. 4 Tommy Thorn at 149 and No. 5 Devin Skatzka at 174.
Penn State, the nation’s top-ranked team, has four top-seeded wrestlers, headlined by another former Apple Valley star, Mark Hall (174 pounds), who set a Minnesota high school record with six state championships, along with Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Bo Nickel (197).
The Gophers are 14-3 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten this season, with the two defeats to Iowa and Nebraska. They didn’t face Penn State or Ohio State in a dual this year and are ranked No. 5 in the nation in tournaments.
Given the depth of the conference, Eggum looks to a top-five finish in the Big Tens as a springboard for the NCAA Championships on March 21-23 in Pittsburgh.
“I would love to be in the top 5 of the Big Ten right now,” Eggum said. “The goal is obviously to win it, so I don’t want to set the bar low, but I know we’ve got some uphill battles along the way.”