Freshmen-to-be Ben Brancale, Fredy Stroker and Larry Early all capture coveted stop signs as junior national champions
The future of Gopher Wrestling was on display in Fargo, N.D. last week during the ASICS Junior Greco-Roman and Freestyle National Championships, an annual showcase of the nation’s best young wrestling talent. Three incoming Gopher freshmen – Ben Brancale, Fredy Stroker and Larry Early – each claimed an individual national championship by the end of the week-long event. Rylee Streifel, another newcomer to the U of M, placed second to earn All-America honors.
Brancale, the younger brother of current Gopher wrestling Sam Brancale, brought home the 138-pound title in Greco earlier in the week. The first half of Brancale’s six wins in the tournament came by bigger winning margins – a combined score of 35-6 – before a nail-biting 5-4 victory in the quarterfinals. A 5-1 decision over fellow Minnesotan Ty Johnson sealed the championship for Brancale.
Stroker earned the 145-pound freestyle title with a 4-3 decision over Patricio Lugo in the title match. Up until the semifinals, Stroker did not allow a single point to his opponents. He began his tournament run with three consecutive tech falls, winning those matches by a combined score of 31-0, before earning a fall at 3:37 of his fourth match and adding a 7-0 decision in the quarterfinals. To cap off his seven-win, championship run, Stroker had to grind out a pair of tough wins, 3-2 in the semis and then 4-3 for the title.
Early, who comes to Dinkytown from Oak Park River Forest H.S. in Illinois, the same powerhouse that produced the Dardanes twins, claimed the 152-pound freestyle crown with a 12-8 decision over Evan Wick to cap off a 7-0 tournament performance. His path to the title started with three consecutive, 10-0 shutouts before allowing just two points to each of his next two opponents. The championship match was the only contest in which Early defeated his opponent by fewer than six points throughout the tournament.
Streifel, a local product from Prior Lake, Minn., fought his way to the championship match at 220 pounds, earning All-America accolades for his runner-up performance. His path to the final match included three tech falls with a combined score of 32-1, the last of which came in a dominant semifinal victory.
Incoming freshmen Miles Patton, Carlson Brolsma and James Berg also competed in Fargo. Patton was an All-American in Greco-Roman placing seventh at 152 pounds. Brolsma compiled a 5-2 record competing in freestyle at 145 pounds, while Berg went 2-2 competing at 152. In addition to competing in Greco, Brancale also wrestled at 138 pounds in the freestyle competition, posting a 5-2 mark in that bracket.
To stay updated on what’s happening with Gopher wrestlers throughout the summer freestyle and Greco-Roman season, be sure to regularly check on GopherSports.com and follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook and Twitter.