Each winter, Minnesotans travel by the thousands to vacation in tropical destinations. This week, No. 2 Minnesota will do the same, though the trip will be as much business as it is pleasure when the Gophers head to Honolulu to compete in the first Aloha Open on Dec. 30.
Not only is the destination of the trip a departure from traditional winter tournaments such as the Midlands (Chicago) or the Southern Scuffle (Chattanooga, Tennessee), but the format is also a departure from the norm. The event includes four teams -- No. 1 Minnesota, No. 20 Oregon State, Oklahoma and American University -- each of which is allowed to bring up to 15 wrestlers to compete.
Rather than a tournament bracket in which wrestlers advance by winning and are eliminated after two defeats, the event is built around round-robins at each weight, so every wrestler at a specific weight will wrestle every other competitor, regardless of previous wins and losses. Those with the best records following the round-robin will be the champions at each weight class. In addition to the event title, those wrestlers will qualify for an offseason trip with Team USA to compete internationally.
"There's a benefit to the younger guys especially," head coach J Robinson said. "At other events, they may lose twice and be done. Here, we're sure they'll get to wrestle a certain number of matches and work on their technique."
In addition to the competition on Dec. 30, the participating teams will also have the benefit of training against one another in the days following the tournament. This will give the teams looks at different styles as they work toward the ultimate goal of being the best possible team come March's NCAA Championships.
The event also provides tremendous value to the sport wrestling in Hawaii in exchange for hosting. Gopher student-athletes and coaches, along with the three other teams joining them in Hawaii, will lead as many as 16 clinics around the state, working with local high school and club programs. For wrestling fans in Hawaii, the event will provide a rare opportunity to see top-tier college wrestling live and up close.
In the future, the Aloha Open hopes to attract a core group of 16-20 teams that will cycle through every four years. Robinson expects the Gophers to compete in the event regularly in the future.
"It's not an event we'll wrestle in every season, but we will make it part of our regular pattern," Robinson said. "There's value for everyone involved, which is the key to creating a great event. This will become one of those great events and we're excited to be a part of that."