Minnesota will start its regular season on Saturday by bringing a collegiate quad meet to Minneapolis for the first time in program history. While the Gophers have previously hosted quads in the state of Minnesota, most notably the Northern Quad in Rochester, Minn., which was last held in November 2010, the Maroon and Gold have never hosted a quad on their own campus until Saturday when Virginia, South Dakota State and Grand Canyon visit Williams Arena. Start time is 3:00 pm.
The Gophers’ opening-day lineup will feature several familiar faces from last season’s team, though two will be in unfamiliar places. No. 18 Ethan Lizak (125) and No. 6 Michael Kroells (285) will return to the mat after strong NCAA tournament performances last year, particularly in the case of Kroells, who earned his first career All-America honor in 2015. Nick Wanzek (174) and No. 7 Brett Pfarr (197) will step back into the starting lineup as well, though both have bumped up a weight class from last season. A fifth returning starter, Jake Short (149) will miss the event due to an injury suffered at last weekend’s Daktronics Open.
Opportunities abound this season for Gopher wrestlers, and a collection of young grapplers will have a chance to seize those opportunities beginning this weekend. It’s possible that as many as seven Gophers will make their varsity debuts at some point during Minnesota’s three duals in the Barn: Skyler Petry (125), Steve Polakowski (133), Tommy Thorn (141), Gannon Volk (149), Miles Patton (149), Brandon Krone (165) and Dylan Urbach (165).
Of the three squads joining the Gophers for Saturday’s event, South Dakota State will be the most recognizable to Minnesota wrestling fans. The Jackrabbits, like the Gophers, were well-represented at the Daktronics Open last Sunday. This weekend could feature several rematches from that tournament. Among the seven possible rematches from the Dak, two would revisit championship bouts. At 141, Thorn earned a 5-2 decision over Seth Gross to win the title, while Brett Pfarr scored a 15-0 tech fall over No. 16 Nate Rotert. Rotert is one of two nationally ranked SDSU wrestlers. The other, No. 6 Cody Pack (157), was not at the Daktronics Open because he was wrestling at the NWCA All-Star Classic. Pack is expected to be in the lineup for the Jackrabbits this weekend.
Saturday’s contest will be the 30th all-time meeting between Minnesota and South Dakota State, though the two neighboring programs have rarely rekindled their rivalry in recent years. In fact, Saturday will mark just the second time since 1979 that the two have wrestled head-to-head. The Gophers took the most recent meeting — the only one during Head Coach J Robinson’s tenure — in 2008 and have won the last four in the series, holding a 24-5 series edge.
That level of familiarity between SDSU and Minnesota does not extend to the other two teams participating in the Gopher Duals. No one on the Gophers roster has previously wrestled any of the probable starters from either of those teams in varsity competition.
Virginia will be visiting Minneapolis for the first time in program history. The Gophers and the Cavaliers have hooked up for two previous matches, but both were back in Virginia during the Virginia Duals in 1987 and 1992. The Gophers took both of those matches and hold the 2-0 advantage in the series heading into Saturday.
The Cavaliers placed 19th at last year’s NCAA Championships, the program’s best finish since 2010. Four of the seven NCAA qualifiers from that team return this season — No. 16 Nick Herrmann (125), No. 11 George DiCamillio (133), Andrew Atkinson (157) and No. 11 Zach Nye (197). Along with Brett Pfarr and SDSU’s Rotert, Nye’s presence makes 197 pounds the weight class with the most ranked wrestlers competing on Saturday, with three.
Grand Canyon returns to Minneapolis one year removed from the Antelopes first-ever meeting with the Gophers. Minnesota defeated Grand Canyon, 36-8, last November at the Pavilion. GCU is entering its third year in a four-year transition period between Division II and Division I. During each of their final three seasons at the Division II level (2010, ’11 and ’12), the Antelopes placed in the top 10 of the NCAA Championships.
Grand Canyon will bring a young lineup to the Gopher Duals. Among the probable starters for the Antelopes, six are true freshman, a seventh is a redshirt freshman and an eighth is a true sophomore. The lone returning starter from last year’s dual, Austin Guan (197) is the most experienced wrestler among the probables as a junior. Wrestling at 184 last year, Guan fell to Brett Pfarr in an 18-4 major decision.
The Gopher Duals will be streamed live on BTN Plus, a subscription-based online service. Please note the stream is currently labeled “Minnesota vs. South Dakota State.” Despite that title, the stream will focus on every match of the three duals featuring the Gophers throughout the event. If time allows, the stream will shift to cover additional matches on the other mat.
Live stats will also be available online via TrackWrestling.com. Of course, as always, regular updates throughout all Gopher matches are available by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter and a full recap of the event will be posted on GopherSports.com on Saturday night.
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