The Gophers continued a streak more than three decades-long on Friday when 197-pounder Brett Pfarr and heavyweight Michael Kroells secured top-eight finishes at the NCAA Championships in New York City. Minnesota has now produced at least one All-American in 31 consecutive seasons, a run that spans the duration of head coach J Robinson’s 30-year tenure at the helm of the program.
Minnesota wrapped up its second day at Madison Square Garden tied for 21st with 19.5 team points. Both Pfarr and Kroells will wrestle on Saturday, the tournament’s final day, looking to help Minnesota improve on that position.
“You want your leaders to lead,” said Robinson. “By becoming All-Americans, the rest of the team can look at them, look at their work ethic and what they do, and hopefully the younger guys take it to heart and go do [next season] what these guys did.”
Pfarr began his day with a quarterfinal bout against unseeded but nationally ranked Patrick Downey (Iowa State). Pfarr defeated Downey to close out the dual season, 12-1, and had similar success on Friday night, taking down his opponent four times and cruising to a 12-3 victory. The win assured Pfarr of his first career All-America finish and his place as the 93rd All-American wrestler in Minnesota history.
“It feels great,” said Pfarr immediately after his win over Downey. When asked about hearing the Gopher fans’ reaction to his win from the stands, he added, “That was really exciting. I love when the fans get rowdy. That’s why I love to wrestle. I love to put on a good show for our fans, my family and my teammates.”
In his semifinal contest later in the evening, Pfarr lost to J’Den Cox (Missouri) on a third-period pin. After falling behind early, Pfarr pressed for a big move late in the match, which led to Cox scoring the pin. Pfarr will take on Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) in tomorrow’s consolation semifinals.
“For Brett tomorrow, he’s got to let this [loss] go, which he’s good at, come back tomorrow and get third. Third now becomes first,” said Robinson. “The higher you place tomorrow, the better you’re going to feel 20 years from now.”
Just as he did last year, Kroells had a long second day at the NCAA Championships following a defeat in the second round on Thursday. To earn his All-America medal, Kroells had to win his first three matches on Friday. Kroells began the day with a 6-1 victory over Joe Stolfi (Bucknell) before knocking off Nathan Butler (Stanford) 5-1. To clinch his All-America placement in the tournament, Kroells needed to defeat Brooks Black (Illinois) for a third time this season. Tied at two in the third, Kroells scored a late takedown and rode out Black to win, 4-2, and secure his second All-American season in as many years.
“It’s great to carry on that Minnesota heavyweight tradition,” said Kroells. “There was a little bit of pressure after I lost that first [match yesterday], but I knew I could come back and get into it.
“There’s no more satisfying feeling to win a big match and you have your fans there to support you,” he added.
Kroells, the 51st multiple-time All-American in Minnesota history, further extended a lineage of elite heavyweights at Minnesota under Robinson by becoming the program’s 19th All-American heavyweight in the past 24 seasons.
“Part of our success at heavyweight is the kids we recruit, like Michael,” said Robinson. “Winning breeds winning. That attitude is the most important thing. We have heavyweights that are coming here because they want to duplicate that winning, they want to be All-Americans … and we have a great legacy of doing that.”
In his consolation quarterfinal match, Kroells fell to Amarveer Dhesi (Oregon State), 8-5. That defeat put Kroells’ in tomorrow’s seventh-place match, where he’ll face off with Max Wessell (Lehigh) for the fourth time this season. The two have alternated victories, with Wessell winning the most recent contest yesterday evening.
Minnesota had four wrestlers still in the tournament field when Friday began, but both Tommy Thorn and Nick Wanzek were eliminated during the midday session.
Thorn picked up his second win of the tournament late Friday morning by controlling his 141-pound match with Mike Longo (Appalachian State) from the opening whistle on his way to a 10-0 major decision. In the next round of wrestlebacks, Thorn fell to Kevin Jack (NC State), 3-1.
At 174, Wanzek hoped to upset Zac Brunson (Illinois) for the second time in the past month after defeating the Illini grappler, 13-10, in Champaign during the dual season. In a much lower-scoring affair, a late shot by Wanzek allowed Brunson to score a takedown and a four-point near fall to blow open a 3-2 match and eliminate Wanzek in a 9-2 decision.
The last day of the 2015-16 Division I wrestling season will start with Session V of the NCAA Championships at 10 a.m. Central on Saturday morning. This early session will include consolation semifinal matches, as well as third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches. Starting at 7 p.m., the final session will wrap up the tournament by hosting all 10 title bouts.
Session V will be broadcast on ESPNU while Session VI will air on ESPN. All matches on all mats can also be streamed live on WatchESPN. For updates from all Gopher matches on Saturday, follow Gopher Wrestling on Twitter.
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