Led by third-place performances from the team’s captains – Brett Pfarr and Michael Kroells – a quartet of Minnesota grapplers secured their spots in the national tournament
Minnesota wrapped up the 2016 Big Ten Championships with four wrestlers earning automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in two weeks. As a team, the Gophers placed ninth with 51.5 points.
The Minnesota foursome guaranteed to be in the NCAA field includes three Gophers who wrestled for third place at their respective weights on Sunday – Tommy Thorn, Brett Pfarr and Michael Kroells – as well as 174-pounder Nick Wanzek, who finished ninth to capture the conference’s last remaining automatic bid at his weight. In addition to the automatic qualifiers, Jake Short also placed, taking seventh at 149 pounds, but he will need an at-large selection to join his teammates at the national tournament.
After an overtime defeat in yesterday’s semifinal, Pfarr rebounded with a pair of victories over top-ten opponents on Saturday to finish third, first over Max Huntley (Michigan), 8-3, and then Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska), 3-1. Pfarr did not allow a takedown to either of his opponents on Sunday. In both of his season as a full-time starter for the Gophers, Pfarr has placed in the top three at Big Tens, taking second last year at 184 pounds before his third-place finish at 197 this year.
Kroells came back from a heartbreaking loss that went through two overtime-and-tiebreaker sets in yesterday’s semifinal to match Pfarr’s team-best, third-place finish. Like Pfarr, Kroells was not taken down in either of his Sunday matches, defeating Brooks Black (Illinois), 1-0, before a rematch of his quarterfinal contest with Billy Smith (Rutgers). Just as they had earlier in the tournament, Kroells and Smith wrestled into tiebreakers, but a rideout for Kroells when he was on top and an escape and takedown from bottom gave him a 4-1 win. Kroells’ third-place finish is two spots higher than his debut performance at Big Tens last season.
In his first career Big Ten tournament, Thorn put together a 3-1 showing on Saturday before advancing to the third-place match with an 11-6 win over Javier Gasca III (Michigan State) in a consolation semifinal Sunday afternoon. In the third-place contest, Thorn brought a 3-1 lead into the third period but a double-leg takedown from top seed Micah Jordan (Ohio State) put Thorn to his back, where he was pinned at 5:40. It was just the second loss by fall in Thorn’s collegiate career. His fourth-place finish guarantees Thorn the opportunity to make his NCAA Championships debut later this month.
Wanzek clinched his first NCAA bid by winning a ninth-place match early Sunday afternoon over Mitch Sliga (Northwestern). The tournament typically does not feature ninth-place matches but with the NCAA awarding the Big Ten nine automatic bids to the NCAA Championships at 174 pounds, deciding ninth place became highly relevant. Wanzek earned the bid by defeating Sliga 8-3, his third win over the Wildcat this season.
Short was the only other Gopher in action on the tournament’s final day. He defeated Cody Burcher (Ohio State), 4-2, to take seventh place at 149. Because the Big Ten was awarded just six automatic tournament berths at that weight, Short will have to be selected as an at-large participant to this year’s field to make his first career NCAA tournament appearance. His resume for that spot includes five wins over NCAA qualifiers and a ranking that places him among the top-three at-large candidates at 149 (the NCAA will select five at-large competitors for the 149 bracket).
With the Big Ten Championships complete, only one event remains on the 2015-16 schedule – the NCAA Championships. The pinnacle of the college wrestling season begins in two weeks, on Thursday, March 17, and runs for three days. For the first time ever, this year’s event will be hosted at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Gardens in New York City.
Gophers Match-by-Match Results
141 – Tommy Thorn
Cons Semis: Tommy Thorn dec Javier Gasca III (Michigan State), 11-6
3rd Place: Micah Jordan (Ohio State) fall (5:40) Tommy Thorn
149 – Jake Short
7th Place: Jake Short dec Cody Burcher (Ohio State), 4-2
174 – Nick Wanzek
Qualifier (9th place): Nick Wanzek dec Mitch Sliga (Northwestern), 8-3
197 – Brett Pfarr
Cons Semis: Brett Pfarr dec Max Huntley (Michigan), 8-3
3rd Place: Brett Pfarr dec Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska), 3-1
285 – Michael Kroells
Cons Semis: Michael Kroells dec Brooks Black (Illinois), 1-0
3rd Place: Michael Kroells dec (TB-1) Billy Smith (Rutgers), 4-1