Coming off a strong showing in the early session of the NCAA Championships on Friday, four Gophers clinched spots on the podium, ensuring All-America seasons for each. Returning All-American Brett Pfarr at 197 pounds and first-time All-American Ethan Lizak at 125 led the way by advancing to tomorrow’s championship bouts. Rounding out the foursome was another pairing of a returning All-American and a first-timer, heavyweight Michael Kroells and 141-pounder Tommy Thorn, respectively.
In the team race, Minnesota sits in sixth with 60 points heading into tomorrow’s final sessions. They will look to hold off Cornell and Virginia Tech tomorrow, who sit 2.5 and 6.5 points back, respectively.
“I said it yesterday, we needed our guys to show up today with energy, ready to fight and they did that. They came to wrestle today,” said Head Coach Brandon Eggum. “It's a tough tournament and it’s unpredictable. I thought the best thing our guys did was that they went out there and did the things they're good at. That sounds easy but it isn’t always simple. They wrestled the matches they wanted to wrestle.”
Lizak advanced to the championship bout at 125 pounds by shutting out both of his opponents in Friday’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. That began with a 13-point flurry over a three-minute span late in his match against Freddie Rodriguez (SIU-Edwardsville) for a 15-0 tech fall, before a 7-0 win over Jack Mueller (Virginia) in the evening.
“Lizak has done exactly what he needed to do. He’s come out and scored first and when you’re as dangerous on top as he is, that’s what you need. We knew if he could score first and get into his best position, he's a tough guy to beat,” said Eggum. “You can see he’s been poised this weekend and that’s been impressive to watch him. To come in as a six-seed and make the NCAA finals, that's awesome.”
Lizak’s win in the morning’s first match guaranteed Minnesota would produce at least one All-American for the 32nd consecutive season. That same victory made Lizak the 94th different Gopher wrestler all-time to earn All-America status.
In his quarterfinal contest, Pfarr once again did not surrender a takedown, running his streak of NCAA tournament matches without being taken down to four straight – all three of his matches to that point in this year’s event, plus last year’s third-place match.
While that streak was snapped in his semifinal bout against third-seeded Kollin Moore (Ohio State), Pfarr avenged his loss to Moore in the Big Ten finals and improved to 3-1 this season against the freshman with a thrilling, 13-9 victory in a match where Pfarr led throughout the final two periods, but did not lead by more than three points until the final horn.
“Brett's wrestled a great tournament, especially in the semis tonight. That was a tough match but you could see he was under control throughout,” said Eggum. “This has been a long time coming for a senior like Brett Pfarr. From his freshman year to where he is today, you have to give a lot of credit to him for being in the position to win a national title.”
Pfarr’s win over Kevin Beazley (Old Dominion) in the quarters clinched a second consecutive All-America finish for Pfarr. He became the 52nd multiple-time All-American in program history, joining the club his teammate and fellow senior captain Kroells entered last season.
“This is a very surreal moment. This has been one of my biggest goals since I came to the University of Minnesota, to be a national champion. This was a step in the right direction. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I’m going to hang my hat knowing I did everything I could with my time here at Minnesota,” said Pfarr.
In his third appearance in as many years in the “Round of 12,” also known as the blood round, Kroells improved to 3-0 lifetime in these matches from which the winner becomes an All-American and the loser is eliminated from the tournament. Rebounding from a quarterfinal defeat earlier in the day to Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder, Kroells used a late takedown to seal a 4-1 victory over Doug Vollaro (Lehigh).
In becoming an All-American for the third time in his career, Kroells became the 26th Gopher in program history to earn three or more All-America honors.
“To be a three-time All-American in the NCAA tournament is an extremely difficult thing to do,” said Eggum, a three-time All-American during his wrestling career at Minnesota. “We've had such stellar heavyweights and built that into a tradition over the year at the U of M. He's a part of that legacy now, among some of the best.”
After a defeat against Nick Nevills (Penn State) in the following round, Kroells will head to tomorrow’s seventh-place match.
After falling in the third round of consolations last season in his NCAA tournament debut, Thorn had his shot at a blood round match of his own on Friday. To become an All-American, he needed to defeat Colton McCrystal (Nebraska), who had twice downed Thorn already this season. In a back-and-forth contest, Thorn pulled away late, the opposite of what happened last time he wrestled McCrystal, and locked up a 10-6 win.
“Tommy’s in such a tough weight, so to be an All-American there is awesome. He just did a great job of keeping his focus and wrestling aggressive. When he got to the positions where he could score, he closed the deal. He wrestled a really efficient, smart match, and he earned that All-American finish,” said Eggum.
Thorn’s win gives his family a unique legacy within the Minnesota program. Both of his older brothers – Mike and David – were two-time All-Americans for the Gophers. With today’s results, the Thorns are now the first family in Gopher wrestling history to have three brothers all earn All-America status during their careers.
Thorn fell to second-seeded Kevin Jack (NC State) in the next round, which will put him in tomorrow morning’s seventh-place match.
Minnesota’s position in the team standings was helped by a strong morning session, where seven wrestlers went a combined 8-2. Three of those seven fell in Round of 12 matches in the evening, ending their tournaments.
Mitch McKee completely shut down his first two opponents, allowing a grand total of zero points to ranked foes Connor Schram (Stanford) and Dom Forys (Pitt), before falling to Zane Richards (Illinois). Jake Short continued his surge from a tough opening-round loss by picking up two impressive wins, 7-1 and 10-2, before losing a 3-2 decision to Joe Smith (Oklahoma State). Building on a strong effort in defeat yesterday against two-time national champ, Isaiah Martinez (Illinois), Wanzek knocked off a pair of top-20 opponents on Friday morning – first dispatching Keilan Torres (Northern Colorado), 12-3, then knocking off Yoanse Mejias (Oklahoma), 8-2 – before falling to Daniel Lewis (Missouri).
Full match-by-match results are listed below.
The NCAA Championships – and the entire 2016-17 NCAA wrestling season – will wrap up Saturday in St. Louis, starting with consolation semifinals and medalists matches during Session V, followed by championship bouts during Session VI. The early session will begin at 10 a.m. Central, followed by the evening session at 7 p.m. Central.
“For the guys wrestling for titles tomorrow, the big thing is they have to continue to be the guys they are. Both those guys have earned it. One day, they’ll look back and they’ll wish they could throw that singlet back on and compete again, so be excited and embrace it,” said Eggum.
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*Italicized matches wrestled during Thursday sessions
125 - Ethan Lizak
Champ Rnd 1: Ethan Lizak dec Christian Moody (Oklahoma), 10-8
Champ Rnd 2: Ethan Lizak maj dec Josh Terao (American), 15-6
Quarters: Ethan Lizak tech fall Freddie Rodriguez (SIU-Edwardsville), 15-0
Semis: Ethan Lizak dec Jack Mueller (Virginia), 7-0
133 - Mitch McKee
Champ Rnd 1: Mitch McKee fall (1:55) Rico Montoya (Northern Colorado)
Champ Rnd 2: Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State) dec Mitch McKee, 3-1
Cons Rnd 2: Mitch McKee dec Connor Schram (Stanford), 2-0
Cons Rnd 3: Mitch McKee dec Dom Forys (Pitt), 4-0
Round of 12: Zane Richards (Illinois) maj dec Mitch McKee, 14-6
141 - Tommy Thorn
Champ Rnd 1: Tommy Thorn dec Timmy Box (Northern Colorado), 10-5
Champ Rnd 2: Tommy Thorn fall (7:59) Joey McKenna (Stanford)
Quarters: George DiCamillo (Virginia) dec Tommy Thorn, 5-2
Round of 12: Tommy Thorn dec Colton McCrystal (Nebraska), 10-6
Cons Rnd of 4: Kevin Jack (NC State) dec Tommy Thorn, 4-1
157 - Jake Short
Champ Rnd 1: B.J. Clagon (Rider) dec Jake Short, 4-2
Cons Rnd 1: Jake Short maj dec Jake Faust (Duke), 13-4
Cons Rnd 2: Jake Short dec (SV-1) Colin Heffernan (Central Michigan), 7-1
Cons Rnd 3: Jake Short maj dec Chase Delande (Edinboro), 10-2
Round of 12: Joe Smith (Oklahoma State) dec Jake Short, 3-2
165 - Nick Wanzek
Champ Rnd 1: Nick Wanzek dec Quentin Perez (Campbell), 3-0
Champ Rnd 2: Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) dec Nick Wanzek, 8-5
Cons Rnd 2: Nick Wanzek maj dec Keilan Torres (Northern Colorado), 12-3
Cons Rnd 3: Nick Wanzek dec Yoanse Mejias (Oklahoma), 8-2
Round of 12: Daniel Lewis (Missouri) maj dec Nick Wanzek, 14-4
174 - Chris Pfarr
Champ Rnd 1: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) maj dec Chris Pfarr, 19-5
Cons Rnd 1: Connor Bass (Duke) dec Chris Pfarr, 4-1
184 - Bobby Steveson
Champ Pigtail: Bobby Steveson maj dec Nick Corba (Cleveland State), 13-3
Champ Rnd 1: Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) maj dec Bobby Steveson, 8-0
Cons Rnd 1: Joseph Heyob (Penn) maj dec Bobby Steveson, 10-1
197 - Brett Pfarr
Champ Rnd 1: Brett Pfarr maj dec Matt Correnti (Rutgers), 11-3
Champ Rnd 2: Brett Pfarr dec Brad Johnson (Oklahoma), 6-1
Quarters: Brett Pfarr dec Kevin Beazley (Old Dominion), 6-0
Semis: Brett Pfarr dec Kollin Moore (Ohio State), 13-9
285 - Michael Kroells
Champ Rnd 1: Michael Kroells dec Austin Myers (Missouri), 6-0
Champ Rnd 2: Michael Kroells dec (TB-2) Denzel Dejournette (Appalachian State), 5-3
Quarters: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) dec Michael Kroells, 13-7
Round of 12: Michael Kroells dec Doug Vollaro (Lehigh), 4-1
Cons Rnd of 4: Nick Nevills (Penn State) dec Michael Kroells, 6-4
Gophers Score Big in the Classroom
Whether measured by grade point averages, conference rankings or individual academic accolades, 2016-17 set a new academic standard for Gopher Wrestling
Bleise Becomes Newest Gopher
Two-time NCAA qualifier Steve Bleise will transfer from Northern Illinois and join the Gophers this fall
McKee Earns Junior World Team Spot
Mitch McKee will represent the USA at 60 kg in Finland this August, while Tony Nelson earns a senior national team spot by finishing third at 125 kg