After finishing up its conference season with a narrow loss to No. 12 Illinois on the final match of the dual last Friday in Champaign, No. 17 Minnesota (9-8, 5-4) will cap its 2015-16 regular season schedule by hosting No. 14 Iowa State (10-5, 2-2 in the Big 12) on Friday night as part of the NWCA Division I National Championship Duals Series.
Despite the loss last weekend, the Gophers have won four of their last six duals heading into this weekend, matching the team’s best six-dual stretch this season. A win on Friday would wrap up Minnesota’s home schedule with an 8-1 record, running its streak of losing one or fewer home duals in a season to five straight years. Friday will also mark the Gophers’ first match in Williams Arena since opening the season with a 3-0 sweep of the Gopher Duals in early November.
Just as it is for Minnesota, Friday night’s dual will mark the end of the regular season for Iowa State. The Cyclones have been streaky since the start of December, reeling off five consecutive wins into mid-January before dropping three at Arizona State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State later in the month. Since that skid, ISU has won three in a row - knocking off Central Michigan, Northern Iowa and West Virginia - and will put that streak on the line Friday night.
The Gophers and the Cyclones have only one common opponent this season - Iowa - which defeated both teams by an almost identical score (34-6 over Minnesota in Iowa City, 33-6 over Iowa State in Ames). Both programs also competed in the Cliff Keen Invitational, where the Gophers finished third (105 points) and the Cyclones finished 19th (46 points).
Friday will bring the 59th meeting in the series between the Gophers and the Cyclones. Though Iowa State holds a 36-20-2 all-time advantage, Minnesota has taken the last three head-to-head meetings, with ISU last defeating the Gophers back in the 2009-10 season.
These two programs last met when they closed the 2013-14 regular season against each other in Ames. After falling behind 6-0 following a pin at 125, the Gophers won four straight matches, and six of the next seven, to pull away from the Cyclones and win, 27-12.
Five wrestlers will return on Friday from that February 2014 meeting: Gophers Sam Brancale, Brandong Kingsley and Michael Kroells, and Cyclones Earl Hall and Tanner Weatherman. That quintent could produce a rematch from the last dual, when Brancale and Hall met at 125 pounds. Hall pinned Brancale late in the third period of that bout. Both are up a weight from that previous meeting, now competing at 133 pounds.
Two other potential matches on Friday’s card have previous history. First, at 184 pounds, Chris Pfarr could have the opportunity to avenge a 5-3 overtime loss to Dane Pestano from this year’s Cliff Keen Invitational, then, at heavyweight, Michael Kroells will look to push his career record against Quean Smith to 2-0 when they meet for the first time since Kroells defeated Smith in a 3-1 decision at the 2014 Southern Scuffle.
The two teams will combine to send a half-dozen ranked wrestlers to the mat on Friday, including five ranked in the top 10 at their respective weights, though none of these wrestlers will compete head-to-head.