Before hitting the remainder of its Big Ten schedule full speed, Minnesota (3-1) will ring in the New Year in Chattanooga, Tenn., at the 14th annual Southern Scuffle. Wrestling in the Scuffle has become a holiday tradition for the Gophers, who will be competing in the event for the 12th time. In those 11 previous appearances, Minnesota has finished in the top five 10 times, including three team titles and four runner-up performances.
The first collegiate matches of 2017 will be down in Chattanooga, where the action begins at 9 a.m. (Central) on Sunday, Jan. 1 from the floor of McKenzie Arena. The opening day will include pigtails, championship matches through the quarterfinals (three full rounds) and the first four rounds of wrestlebacks. Action will resume on Monday at 9 a.m., with semifinals and consolation rounds, culminating with title bouts and medalist matches beginning at 6 p.m.
Fans will be able to stream the action live on Flowrestling.org (live stream requires a FloPRO subscription) or keep tabs on the latest updates involving Minnesota’s wrestlers by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter (@GopherWrestling).
Who Will Be at UTC… And at What Weight?
A group of 16 Gophers will make the trip to wrestle on the campus of Tennessee-Chattanooga, with five weights featuring multiple representatives for the Maroon and Gold. That multiplicity begins at 125 pounds, where three Gophers are set to compete. Ethan Lizak will return to the lineup and be joined by the two men who have filled the 125 lineup spot for the Gophers so far this year – Steve Polakowski and Skyler Petry. At 149 pounds, Fredy Stroker will return to action along with Carson Brolsma, who began the year at 157 but will drop down for the Scuffle. At Brolsma’s former weight class, No. 10 Jake Short will look to build on his Cliff Keen Invitational title and will be joined by Brandon Kingsley, who returns to 157 (where he wrestled last season) after beginning this year at 165. The 174-pound slot in the lineup, which will be vacated by No. 13 Nick Wanzek as he drops down to 165, will feature both Brandon Krone and Chris Pfarr, who are meeting in the middle after competing at 165 and 184 last season, respectively. Lastly, at heavyweight, No. 6 Michael Kroells will have company from teammate Rylee Streifel. Weights with a lone Gopher will be 133, home to No. 18 Mitch McKee; 141, where Tommy Thorn will return to the lineup; 165 with Wanzek; 184, where Bobby Steveson will look to carry his momentum from a strong weekend in Michigan earlier this month, and; 197, starring undefeated and second-ranked Brett Pfarr.
Here’s a summary of that lineup card:
125: Lizak, Petry, Polakowski
149: Stroker, Brolsma
157: Short, Kingsley
174: Krone, C Pfarr
197: B Pfarr
So Far This Season
The Southern Scuffle will be the second premier in-season tournament for the Gophers in the past 30 days after Minnesota placed fourth at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas during the opening weekend in December. Two Gophers – Short at 157 and Brett Pfarr at 197 – won individual titles with 5-0 showings in Sin City, while Kroells, McKee and Wanzek also turned in podium performances.
Prior to Vegas, the Gophers had wrestled in two other tournaments, opening the season at the Daktronics Open in South Dakota where, among Minnesota’s four finalists, Lizak won the 125-pound title and McKee, Short and Kroells all finished as runners-up. In a less-conventional tournament format, Minnesota competed at the Journeymen/Asics Collegiate Classic in Troy, N.Y. the following week. In that pool-based, round-robin event, four Gophers won titles: McKee, Kroells, Chris Pfarr and Sam Brancale.
Between the Cliff Keen Invitational and the upcoming Scuffle, the Gophers muscled through a Michigan road trip to open their Big Ten season 2-0. After a 20-17 victory in East Lansing on a Friday, Minnesota rolled into Ann Arbor and upset No. 10 Michigan, 22-18, on Sunday afternoon. Including a home split with No. 20 South Dakota State and No. 1 Oklahoma State, the Gophers are 3-1 in dual action this season.
Last Time Around
The Gophers are looking to avenge the program’s lowest-ever finish in the Scuffle (sixth) from last January with an improved showing this year. In last year’s tournament, four Gophers placed, led by Brett Pfarr’s runner-up finish at 197 pounds. Heavyweight Michael Kroells finished third, first-year starter Tommy Thorn, competing at 141, took fifth and Sam Brancale, wrestling at 133, placed eighth. Those performances, along with those of their teammates, gave the Gophers 79.5 team points, putting them behind Penn State, Oklahoma State, Lehigh, North Carolina and Cornell. All of those teams, save for the Nittany Lions, will be in the tournament this weekend as well.
A Nationally Elite Field
The Scuffle field is always one of the best among all in-season tournaments, and this year is no exception. Nine top-25 teams are set for the event, including five ranked in the top 15. In addition to No. 13 Minnesota, that list includes top-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 5 Missouri, No. 8 Cornell and No. 9 Lehigh. Looking back at last year’s brackets, a dozen teams that placed in the top 15 will be back in Chattanooga this weekend.
While last year’s team had limited Scuffle experience, this year’s lineup will feature plenty of wrestlers who have seen action on the Mocs’ mats. Of the 16 Gophers expected to make the trip and compete, 13 wrestled in last year’s event, some attached and others unattached. The only three Gophers making their Scuffle debuts this weekend will be true freshman McKee, redshirt freshman Brolsma, and Short, who missed last year’s event due to injury.