J Robinson, the head coach of the University of Minnesota’s wrestling program, is a tough hombre. A couple seasons ago, he coached an entire season with only one knee. I’m not talking about one healthy knee; I literally mean he only had one knee joint. Something strange happened with a knee replacement operation, doctors removed Robinson’s knee, but were unable to install the new knee, and the coaching legend went for months with a kneeless leg.
Knees, as it turns out, are for wimps, and Robinson has no time for wimps. Instead he has built a wrestling dynasty by surrounding himself with collection after collection of the toughest dudes from the frozen planes of the upper Midwest. To this day, Minnesota is the last Division I wrestling team to win its first NCAA team championship, and this year they could very well add to their collection of first-place plaques.
Minnesota is the common-sense pick to win it all this year. With highly-ranked wrestlers like Dylan Ness at 157 pounds, Logan Storley at 174 pounds and Scott Schiller at 197 pounds, they return a boat load of team points. Add to this the Dardanes brothers, past All Americans who fizzled at last season’s end, and half of the Golden Gophers lineup ought to place in the nation’s top five. If you want to win a national wrestling championship, that’s a good place to start.
Here we should take special care to mention that anyone who ever had the slightest impulse to watch college wrestling should try to get a look at Dylan Ness. From an excitement standpoint, Ness is unmatched; only the very largest barrels (like a hogshead) of monkeys could come close to matching Ness’ fun factor. The kid can pin from anywhere, and he’ll take big risks to do so.
Returning from that digression: If someone were to detract from this year’s Minnesota squad, then a good starting place would be the remaining five members of the lineup, who are relatively unproven. Minnesota features brand new starters at four of these weights: Jake Short at 149 pounds, Brandon Kingsley at 165 pounds, Brett Pfarr at 184 pounds and Michael Kroells at 285. All four of these wrestlers are very talented, but looking around at the rest of the field at their weights, it’s difficult to project any as a likely national place winner.
This might not matter. If Minnesota sends four wrestlers to the finals, which is a real possibility, the Gophers won’t need much, or anything, from the younger parts of their lineup, and J Robinson will bring his fourth team championship back to the Twin Cities.
Thanks to our friend Earl Smith at D1collegewrestling.net, we have Minnesota’s probable lineup.
125-Sam Brancale (So)
133-Chris Dardanes (Sr) 2014 NCAA Qualifier–Round of 12, 2013 NCAA 6th Place, 2012 NCAA 4th Place
141-Nick Dardanes (Sr) 2014 NCAA Qualifier, 2013 NCAA 7th Place, 2012 NCAA Qualifier–Round of 12
149-Jake Short (Fr)
157-Dylan Ness (Sr) 2014 NCAA Runner-Up, 2013 NCAA 4th Place, 2012 NCAA Runner-Up
165-Brandon Kingsley (So)
174-Logan Storley (Sr) 2014 NCAA 3rd Place, 2013 NCAA 4th Place, 2012 NCAA 6th Place
184-Brett Pfarr (So)
197-Scott Schiller (Sr) 2014 NCAA 3rd Place, 2013 NCAA 6th Place
285-Michael Kroells (So)
Minnesota’s five-stud core of the Dardanes brothers, Ness, Storley and Schiller will almost certainly bank over 80 points, and could very well bring in more than 90. This is frightening, and the Gophers would then need only a smattering of NCAA tournament wins from the rest of the lineup to solidify a first-place national finish.
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