IOWA CITY – Ben Berhow was introduced to the Iowa-Minnesota wrestling rivalry at a young age
The Hayward, Minn., native couldn’t have imagined then that he would end up on both sides of that competitive fence.
Berhow will experience it for the first time as a Hawkeye when the second-ranked Iowa hosts No. 4 Minnesota today at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Berhow is in his first season as voluntary assistant coach for the Hawkeyes, serving as an administrative assistant for Minnesota the last two seasons.
The rivalry between Iowa (11-1, 4-0 Big Ten) and Minnesota (7-1, 4-1) is important to the 25-year-old former Gophers heavyweight.
“It’s dated back a really long time,” said Berhow, who was a Minnesota state champion for Albert Lea High School. “I was a little boy, watching the Gophers and Hawkeyes wrestle, so it’s a special rivalry. It’s great for the sport of wrestling.”
It will be the first time Berhow goes be toe-to-toe with the Gophers, instead of having their backs on the mat. He still appreciates the program and Coach J. Robinson, who coached Berhow to three national tournament berths from 2007-10 and provided his first coaching opportunity.
“It’s the guy that I grew really close with,” Berhow said. “I loved my time there. It will be good to see them.”
Berhow’s role was more behind the scenes for the Gophers, while he was studying for his Masters’ degree. He switched sides, receiving a higher position with the Hawkeyes, replacing Kurt Backes on staff. Make no mistake where his allegiance lies now.
“Once that whistle blows I’m an Iowa Hawkeye,” Berhow said. “We want to go out there and dominate them, and get a win against a real tough team.”
Berhow said he remembers how difficult the Iowa crowd can be on the opposition. He faced it as a competitor. He said the hostile environment is always a factor with “some of the greatest fans in the world breathing down” the opponents necks. The key is for the Hawkeyes to ignite their supporters.
“We gave to get it in our favor,” Berhow said. “Wrestle in a way that gets that crowd in our favor and I think god things will happen.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said Berhow brings a big body that could be “active” and “scrap” to the practice room. He has been involved with third-ranked Bobby Telford and the rest of the Hawkeye heavyweights.
“Berhow is very durable,” Brands said. “Whatever Telford needs on a certain day, he’s game.”
He can work on specific moves and technique related to heavyweights, especially since he competed in that class and still has a large frame. Berhow can provide specialized instruction and attention to Iowa’s big guys.
“He can take him or a couple guys off to the side and coach them as a heavyweight,” Brands said. “That’s important as well.”
The dual promises 18 ranked wrestlers, including a Hawkeye ranked nationally at each weight. The decisive match could come down to the heavyweight match between Telford (15-1) and Minnesota’s second-ranked Tony Nelson (21-2).
Berhow helped train Nelson to two NCAA titles, but now is trying to get Telford over the hurdle that nelson has presented in the past. He said he expects an exciting match.“Both are tough competitors (and) have one thing in mind and that’s winning,” Berhow said. “Both are very physical and aggressive heavyweights. It will be a battle.”