Gophersports.com sat down with Minnesota head wrestling coach J Robinson to discuss the current state of his defending national champion Gophers. Minnesota is currently ranked fifth nationally (8-3 in dual meets) and finished fourth at the 2008 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals last weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The Gophers will host South Dakota State this Sunday at the Sports Pavilion at 2 p.m.
Q: Did you realistically expect Jayson Ness (23-0 this year) to have the kind of success he is having?
Coach Robinson: Yes ? I think Jayson Ness is doing what we expect everybody to do here at Minnesota... When you?re at the top, you have high expectations. The expectation here is that everybody should be doing what Jayson Ness is doing. It?s an expectation that goes along with winning the tournament.
Q: Mack Reiter went 4-0 last weekend at the National Duals. Is he all the way back from his injury last season?
A: I don?t know that he is all the way back, but he is on track. All the way back means to win the national tournament, and I think that is what is on Mack?s mind. I think that is what he?s geared to do. I think he is back on course, which is the key. You can see that he is making progress in every match. He is wrestling harder and harder, and it?s going to be harder and harder to stay with him as we move forward.
Q: Are Manny Rivera (141 pounds) and Gabe Dretsch (174 pounds) the key to repeating as national champions this year? Those two have qualified for nationals before but never been All-Americans.
A: Well, I think that everyone on this team is the key ? it?s tough to single out individuals. The key is to have everyone wrestle to or above their seeds (at the national tournament). It?s that simple. If Manny is seeded fourth, he needs to get second. If Dretsch is seeded eighth, he needs to get fourth. Wherever they are, they need to wrestle above their seeds. We need to have a very consistent, good tournament, and the way you do that is having good training. We are going to do our training a little bit different, change some things up, which I think will be good for us.
Q: What is the current status of the team?s banged-up starters ? most specifically Roger Kish (two-time All-American at 184 pounds) and Dustin Schlatter (two-time All-American at 149 pounds)?
A: Roger and Dustin will be ready when they are ready. We have a game plan about what we want to do, and we are going to stick to that game plan. It?s like anything ? you look at things and you make adjustments. Every year we have been very good at adapting at what we need to do, and I don?t think this year is any different. We need to focus at what we are good at, and we will go from there.
Q: How have you seen the competition within the Big Ten conference evolve over the course of this year? A lot of different teams (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State) have experienced considerable success.
A: I think that any time you have new coaches (like Iowa?s Tom Brands) they bring excitement and a different, fresh approach. They are going to try and do things a little bit different, and in this business you have to be very flexible. You need to be able to adapt. When the scenery changes, you need to be able to adapt, in this case to what the other teams are doing. Being a coach means constant adaptation to what is going on.
Q: What are your thoughts on last weekend?s NWCA National Duals? There were a lot of upsets, and your team failed to win the event for the first time in three years.
A: The weekend?s results give you time to sit back and figure out what you need to work on as a team, and I think that is what is important for us. In the past, we have been very good at doing what we need to do. I think we need to just sit back, take a deep breath, figure out what we want to do, and we need to go in that direction.
Q: Did you expect both Iowa and Nebraska to be in the National Duals final Sunday? The Cornhuskers were unseeded coming in, and Iowa had a tough road to the championship.
A: I didn?t necessarily expect those two teams, but I wasn?t surprised. I think Nebraska has a great team and they wrestled a great meet against us (a 24-13 Cornhusker win). It?s like a lot of things. You have to look and see if the teams are healthy because if you?re all together, it?s a different game. They had some people out the first dual meet (Dec. 6 in Minneapolis) and we had some people injured for the second dual meet Saturday, so it will be good to wrestle again when everyone is healthy. I think that it makes a big difference.
Q: How do you see Sunday?s dual meet against South Dakota State playing out?
A: I think we are going to use (Sunday?s meet) to equate where some of our guys are; we?re going to use it as part of our training cycle. We have a game plan to use at the South Dakota State meet, and we are gong to plug everybody into what we want to do. Our priority is to get our team healthy and get them back.
Q: What did the National Duals teach your staff about the state of this team right now?
A: I think some of our guys wrestled a great tournament. Mack, Manny and C.P. (Schlatter) are hitting on all pistons right now. I think C.P. is wrestling great. He is finding what?s it?s like to get after people, and if he wrestles aggressively I don?t think there is anybody who can beat him. I also think that Mack is continuing to improve. I think that he can see the difference, feel the difference, smell the difference and even taste the difference, which is important because it keeps the level of training where it needs to be at this point. That?s how you get better, a little bit each day.
Q: Do you still consider yours the team to beat once you enter the championship stretch of the season?
A: I don?t know if you say team to beat. I will say that we have as good a chance as anyone. We know what it takes to win. We have been there before.