Four Gopher wrestlers advance to day two of the tournament, with Pfarr moving to the quarterfinals after a 2-0 opening day
Brett Pfarr shined for Minnesota on the opening day of the 2016 NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden, allowing just a single point to his two opponents and advancing to the 197-pound quarterfinals. Collectively, the five Gophers who earned spots in this year’s tournament went 5-5 on the day, with four still alive for the tournament’s second day. The Gophers scored 5.5 points as a team on Thursday and currently sit in a tie for 30th place.
“Today was pretty much the way the season’s been. It’s been challenging,” said head coach J Robinson. “We’re not wrestling our style. We’re not wrestling our pace. When you get to tournaments like this, it costs you. That’s just the way it is. It’s something we have to take match by match and day by day. We’ll do as well as we can here and then, when we get home, we’ll have to fix some stuff.”
Pfarr, the third seed at 197, bowled over a pair of top-20 opponents to position himself one win shy of guaranteeing an All-America finish and continuing toward his ultimate goal of standing at the top of the podium on Saturday night. Pfarr began the day with a convincing 5-0 win over Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State). In his second-round bout, Pfarr nearly pinned Zach Nye (Virginia) in the first period, settling instead for a four-point near fall to jump ahead 6-0 on his way to a 15-1 major decision.
After a disappointing 1-2 performance in his NCAA tournament debut last year competing at 184 pounds, Pfarr came to New York City looking from a better showing. What he got from his first day was a sense of relief.
“I was excited for today and I’m kind of glad to have it behind me,” said Pfarr. “That first match was a little nerve-racking. After last year, it was a reminder of what can happen at the NCAA tournament. We saw a lot of upsets today, so it feels good to get two good wins under me. I’ve got one more tomorrow and that’s all I’m focused on.”
“[Pfarr’s] wrestling well. He’s wrestling intense and he’s wrestling tough,” said Robinson. “He came here to win this tournament.”
Two other Gopher grapplers were seeded heading into the event and while both suffered defeats on Thursday, 141-pounder Tommy Thorn and heavyweight Michael Kroells survived the first day of competition and will be in action tomorrow morning.
Thorn, making his first appearance at NCAAs, won his opening match over Nicholas Gil (Navy), 3-2, the exact score by which he defeated Gil earlier this season at the Southern Scuffle. In another tournament rematch, Thorn fell in his second-round contest to Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 5-1. Jordan had previously defeated Thorn in the third-place match of the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago.
The Gophers’ lone returning All-American, Kroells, had an opening day eerily similar to last season. Just like last year, Kroells came into the tournament as the ninth seed. Like last year, he defeated an unseeded wrestler in his first match – this year’s victory was a 5-2 win over Mauro Correnti (Rider) – and, like last year, he was defeated by a higher-seeded wrestler in his second contest, this year falling to Max Wessell (Lehigh), 15-7. Kroells will look to replicate more of his tournament performance from last year tomorrow as he works toward his second All-America season through the consolation bracket.
Jake Short and Nick Wanzek came to Manhattan unseeded in their first career NCAA tournament appearances and suffered opening match losses to seeded competitors. Short fell to Alec Pantaleo (Michigan), 4-0, in the first round, while Wanzek fell to Myles Martin (Ohio State), 12-4.
In wrestlebacks, Wanzek fell behind early to Phil Bakuckas (Rutgers) on a first period takedown, but rallied for a takedown of his own in the middle frame before the two headed to sudden victory overtime. In the overtime period, Wanzek scored a takedown to defeat Bakuckas, 6-4, and continue in the tournament. Meanwhile, Short suffered a 4-1 defeat on the backside of the bracket and was eliminated Thursday night.
Friday’s action at Madison Square Garden will begin with Session III at 10 a.m. Central, followed by Session IV at 7 p.m. Central. The midday session will feature quarterfinal matches, as well as the second and third round of wrestlebacks, while the evening session will include semifinal bouts and the fourth and fifth rounds of wrestlebacks.