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Minnesota proves its power in day one of the CKLV Invite
By Mike Finn, WIN Editor
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The University of Minnesota wrestling team is ranked No. 1 by WIN in both its dual meet rankings and Tournament Power Index (TPI), but Gopher coach J Robinson still wasn’t sure how good this 2014-15 team was.
That’s why the veteran coach chose to bring his Minnesota team to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational this weekend for the first time in six years.
And after day one of the two-day event in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Gophers are living up to their early-season billing by holding a 20-point lead in the team race and have sent five wrestlers to the semifinals of this event, which is in its 33rd year.
Advancing to the semifinals for Minnesota are the Dardanes twins — Chris at 133 pounds and Nick at 141 — as well as a trio of wrestlers who are ranked No. 1 at their weight classes: Dylan Ness (157), Logan Storley (174) and Scott Schiller (197).
In the team race, Minnesota tops the field with 85.5 points, followed by Iowa State (65), Cornell (61), Michigan (60.5) and both Ohio State and Virginia Tech, which are tied for fifth place with 57.5 points.
In the past five years, Robinson has entered his team in the Southern Scuffle, which will take place Jan. 1-2 in Chattanooga, Tenn. But since the Gophers will be in Hawaii for the Aloha Open on Dec. 30, the CKLV would be the only chance for him to see his team against other highly-ranked individuals.
“We had some young guys and wanted them to see what action was and give them a chance to be seeded (for the 2015 NCAA tournament) by doing well here and we wanted to see good competition,” Robinson said. “I’ve liked what some of them have done and that’s why we came here; to find out what we need to work on. It’s early in December so we have four months to work on it.”
Adding some punch for the Gophers — who finished second behind Penn State in last year’s NCAA tournament — are the Dardanes twins, who have dropped down this season from 141 and 149 pounds, where the pair failed to earn All-American honors last March in Oklahoma City. Robinson said the Gopher coaches decided to move the natives of Chicago back to the weight classes that had earned them All-American honors before last season.
“We have Jake Short and we wanted to get him in the lineup and it made our team stronger and those guys have a lot more power at these weight classes than then did up a weight class,” Robinson said. “If you watch Chris wrestle, his explosive power is completely different.”
The Dardanes have responded very favorably this winter and are ranked among the top three in their weight class. In Day 1, Chris earned a technical fall and pin before beating Virginia Tech’s Kevin Norstrem, 12-5, in the quarterfinals at 133 pounds. Nick got a scare from North Dakota State’s Mitch Bengston, who caught the 141-pound Gopher in a spladle before Dardanes rallied to win his quarterfinal 8-7.
The Gophers nearly saw a sixth wrestler qualify for Saturday morning’s semifinals, but also saw one of its top-ranked wrestlers nearly lose in the quarterfinals.
At 174 pounds, Storley was pushed to overtime before finally scoring a takedown and 3-1 decision against Michigan’s Davonte Mahomes. One match later, the Gophers 184-pound sophomore Brett Pfarr — in his first season on the Minnesota varsity — also nearly pulled off an upset when he appeared to score a takedown at the end of regulation in his match against Cornell’s top-ranked Gabe Dean. But the points were not allowed and sent the bout to a tiebreaker phase where Dean rode out the Pfarr after the Big Red wrestler had escaped.
Meanwhile’s Minnesota’s other top-ranked wrestlers — Ness and Schiller — easily won both of their bouts on Friday, including Ness who scored falls in his first two bouts.
The only other top-ranked wrestler competing in this year’s event was Ohio State’s 141-pound Logan Stieber, who is looking capture a fourth straight CKLV Invitational championship. The Buckeye picked up a pin and two technical falls. Also winning two matches at this weight class was Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter, who is back down at 141 pounds — where he lost in last year’s NCAA final to Stieber — after beginning the season at 149 pounds.
The following are the semifinal match-ups, which will begin at 9 a.m. (PST) on Saturday, Dec. 7:
Nahshon Garrett (Cornell) vs. Josh Martinez (Air Force)
Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa) vs. Joey Dance (Virginia Tech)
Chris Dardanes (Minnesota) vs. George DiCamillo (Virginia)
Rossi Bruno (Michigan) vs. Dan DeShazer (Nebraska-Kearney)
Logan Stieber (Ohio State) vs. Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers)
Nick Dardanes (Minnesota) vs. Devin Carter (Virginia Tech)
Chris Villalonga (Cornell) vs Gabe Moreno (Iowa State)
Cody Ruggirello (Hofstra) vs. Alec Pantaleo (Michigan)
Dylan Ness (Minnesota) vs. Russell Parsons (Army)
Anthony Perrotti (Rutgers) vs. James Green (Nebraska)
Nick Sulzer (Virginia) vs. Cooper Moore (Northern Iowa)
Taylor Walsh (Indiana) vs. Mike Moreno (Iowa State)
Logan Storley (Minnesota) vs. Blaise Butler (Virginia)
Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State) vs. Robert Kokesh (Nebraska)
Gabe Dean (Cornell) vs. Taylor Meeks (Oregon State)
Blake Stauffer (Arizona State) vs. Hayden Zillmer (North Dakota State)
Scott Schiller (Minnesota) vs. Jace Bennett (Cornell)
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) vs. Kyven Gadson (Iowa State)
Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State) vs. Joe Stolfi (Bucknell)
Ty Walz (Virginia Tech) vs. Adam Coon (Michigan)