Against a field featuring nine top-25 teams, the Gophers fought their way into the top five following the opening day of the 2017 Southern Scuffle, with four wrestlers reaching Monday’s semifinals and five more still alive and ready to compete in consolation matches tomorrow morning. Minnesota’s four semifinalists is tied for the second-most in the field, while their nine active wrestlers across the entire bracket is the third highest of any team. The Gophers’ 68 team points has them in fifth place, but they trail fourth-place Northern Iowa by just a half-point, third-place Lehigh by 1.5 points and second-place Missouri by 2.5 points. While Oklahoma State looks well on its way to the championship, there will be plenty of opportunities for the next four teams to trade positions on Monday.
“I think the guys wrestled really well overall. Having four semifinalists is great but, as we look ahead, we were just a hair away from having seven,” said head coach Brandon Eggum. “That would have been exciting because that’s closer to where we want to be. We got better today, and now we get a chance to make adjustments and continue to work toward our goals for March.”
The Gophers’ four semifinalists represent the Maroon and Gold in the two lightest and two heaviest weight classes.
Starting with the latter, No. 2 Brett Pfarr and No. 6 Michael Kroells were seeded to reach the championship matches at 197 pounds and heavyweight, respectively.
Pfarr chopped down three opponents by an average score of 13-2, though he did see his streak of nine straight bonus-point wins snapped in the quarterfinals when he defeated Derek White (Oklahoma State), 10-4. Despite that, Pfarr improved to 15-0 on the season and continued his push toward a potential rematch of last year’s Scuffle finals with defending national champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, J’Den Cox (Missouri).
Kroells’ journey was equally dominate through three matches on Sunday, as he outscored his opponents 31-1 prior to his quarterfinal match against No. 19 Billy Miller (Edinboro). Kroells cruised to an 8-1 win over Miller last month but, in the first period of their rematch, Miller locked in a cradle and looked like he may pin the second seed until Kroells wiggled free from his back. Still, the six-point move put Kroells in a hole out of which few heavyweights are able to escape. Despite those odds, Kroells did. A takedown and a two-point nearfall off a wrist tilt gave him his first lead late in the final period and his 10-8 comeback win over Miller sent him on in the tournament.
“Kroells did a great job of staying focused,” Eggum said about his unlikely comeback. “He’s a competitor and you saw that tonight. Giving up the first six points can be tough to come back from, but he did it by staying focused and competing hard. It’s nice to have matches like that one, matches where you get tested by a quality opponent.”
Swinging down to the lowest weights, neither Ethan Lizak or Mitch McKee was seeded to be among the last four fighting in their weight classes but their work on Sunday got them there.
Lizak returned to the Gopher lineup for the first time since competing in the NCAA Championships as a true freshman in 2014-15 and looked impressive, racking up three bonus-point wins and showcasing his trademark strength in the top position. That ability to score from on top proved critical in his 8-0 major decision over No. 6 Darian Cruz (Lehigh), a match that was close heading to the third period before Lizak blew it open with a four-point tilt that sealed the bout and sent him through to the semifinals.
“Everyone in the country knows how dangerous Lizak is on top. He’s a tough guy to beat and he’s always going to be a tough guy to beat because he can win in all areas – not just on top, but from bottom and on his feet. That’s a recipe for disaster if you have to wrestle against him,” said Eggum.
McKee, a true freshman, had an opportunity to avenge a 2-0 loss to No. 17 Mark Grey (Cornell) from last month’s Cliff Keen Invitational in another quarterfinal match at a major tournament. In a contest that looked quite similar through seven minutes to their previous meeting, McKee managed to escape from Grey in the third to tie the match at one, something he wasn’t able to do last time. In tiebreakers, McKee scored a six-point move from the bottom position – a rare occurrence in any match but particularly in tiebreakers – to lock up a 7-1 win over Grey.
Three other Gophers reached the quarterfinals but lost in that round and will be in wrestlebacks tomorrow morning: Tommy Thorn gave defending national champion and top-ranked Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) more than he wanted in a 2-1 loss at 141 pounds; No. 10 Jake Short at 157 fell behind on a six-point move and lost to No. 18 Andrew Atkinson (Virginia), and; Nick Wanzek, who dropped down to 165 and looked good at his new weight with two bonus-point wins, fell 6-4 to No. 13 Bryce Steiert (Northern Iowa).
Also still wrestling tomorrow for Minnesota will be Steve Polakowski, who rallied from a 3-2 loss in his opening match to win three consolation matches and stave off elimination, and Chris Pfarr, who dropped down to 174 pounds and matched Polakowski’s run, scoring three victories after an 8-4 loss in his first-round match.
Full match-by-match results for the Gophers in action on the opening day of the Southern Scuffle are listed below.
Wrestling resumes at McKenzie Arena on the Tennessee-Chattanooga campus tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Central with Round of 12 consolation matches. Semifinals and another round of wrestlebacks will begin at 11 a.m., followed by consolation semifinals at 1 p.m. and then a break before championship bouts and other medal matches begin at 6 p.m.
As was the case in the first day of competition, fans can stay updated on all Gopher matches by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter. Live video is available on Flowrestling.org for FloPRO members. Live scoring and brackets are available free of charge on Flowrestling.org.
Ethan Lizak (3-0)
Champ Rnd 1: Ethan Lizak maj dec Thayer Atkins (Duke), 12-2
Champ Rnd 2: Ethan Lizak tech fall Noah Baughman (Cornell), 16-0
Quarters: Ethan Lizak maj dec No. 6 Darian Cruz (Lehigh), 8-0
Steve Polakowski (3-1)
Champ Rnd 1: Eli Hale (Oklahoma State) dec Steve Polakowski, 3-2
Cons Rnd 1: Bye
Cons Rnd 2: Steve Polakowski maj dec Tanner Shoap (Drexel), 13-5
Cons Rnd 3: Steve Polakowski dec Skyler Petry, 8-6
Cons Rnd of 8: Steve Polakowski tech fall Fabian Gutierrez (Chattanooga), 18-3
Skyler Petry (1-2)
Champ Rnd 1: Skyler Petry dec James Szymanski (North Carolina), 5-4
Champ Rnd 2: No. 7 Barlow Mcghee (Missouri) dec Skyler Petry, 5-3
Cons Rnd 3: Steve Polakowski dec Skyler Petry, 8-6
Mitch McKee (2-0)
Champ Rnd 1: Bye
Champ Rnd 2: Mitch McKee dec Durbin Lloren (Utah Valley), 6-1
Quarters: Mitch McKee dec (TB-1) No. 17 Mark Grey (Cornell), 7-1
Tommy Thorn (2-1)
Champ Rnd 1: Tommy Thorn dec Nic Gil (Navy), 4-1
Champ Rnd 2: Tommy Thorn dec Zach Synon (Missouri), 5-3
Quarters: No. 1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) dec Tommy Thorn, 2-1
Carson Brolsma (2-2)
Champ Rnd 1: Carson Brolsma dec Walker Dempsey (Stanford), 8-3
Champ Rnd 2: No. 17 Matt Cimato (Drexel) dec Carson Brolsma, 4-0
Cons Rnd 3: Carson Brolsma dec Dylanger Potter (Chattanooga), 12-6
Cons Rnd of 8: Corey Wilding (Navy) dec Carson Brolsma, 7-2
Fredy Stroker (0-2)
Champ Rnd 1: No. 4 Lavion Mayes (Missouri) dec Fredy Stroker, 3-1
Cons Rnd 1: Dylanger Potter (Chattanooga) fall (0:44) Fredy Stroker
Jake Short (2-1)
Champ Rnd 1: Jake Short dec Laken Cooke (Appalachian State), 6-2
Champ Rnd 2: Jake Short maj dec Luke Fortuna (Missouri), 12-3
Quarters: No. 18 Andrew Atkinson (Virginia) maj dec Jake Short, 14-4
Brandon Kingsley (2-1)
Champ Rnd 1: No. 6 Joey LaVallee (Missouri) dec Brandon Kingsley, 4-3
Cons Rnd 1: Brandon Kingsley dec Michael Murphy (Virginia), 6-0
Cons Rnd 2: Brandon Kingsley dec Dane Robbins (Air Force), 10-6
Cons Rnd of 8: Taylor Simaz (Cornell) med. for. Brandon Kingsley
Nick Wanek (3-1)
Champ Pigtail: Nick Wanzek tech fall Alex Bennett (Gardner webb), 16-0
Champ Rnd 1: Nick Wanzek dec Joseph Velliquette (Penn), 4-1
Champ Rnd 2: Nick Wanzek maj dec Cameron Harrell (Virginia), 10-1
Quarters: No. 13 Bryce Steiert (Northern Iowa) dec Nick Wanzek, 6-4
Chris Pfarr (3-1)
Champ Rnd 1: Nick Kee (Appalachian State) dec Chris Pfarr, 8-4
Cons Rnd 1: Chris Pfarr maj dec Randy Meneweather (Air Force), 11-1
Cons Rnd 2: Chris Pfarr med. for. No. 16 Jim Wilson (Stanford)
Cons Rnd of 8: Chris Pfarr dec Lee Davis (NC State), 3-2
Brandon Krone (0-2)
Champ Rnd 1: No. 6 Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) maj dec Brandon Krone, 10-2
Cons Rnd 1: Andrew Morgan (Campbell) dec Brandon Krone, 6-3
Bobby Steveson (1-2)
Champ Rnd 1: Bobby Steveson maj dec Matt Lemanowicz (Missouri), 14-3
Champ Rnd 2: No. 17 Chip Ness (North Carolina) maj dec Bobby Steveson, 18-9
Cons Rnd 2: Alex DeCiantis (Drexel) dec Bobby Steveson, 7-6
Brett Pfarr (3-0)
Champ Rnd 1: Brett Pfarr maj dec Ben Honis (Cornell), 14-1
Champ Rnd 2: Brett Pfarr tech fall Randall Diabe (Appalachian State), 15-0
Quarters: Brett Pfarr dec Derek White (Oklahoma State), 10-4
Michael Kroells (4-0)
Champ Pigtail: Michael Kroells tech fall Tyler Hall (Penn), 18-0
Champ Rnd 1: Michael Kroells maj dec Jack Kuck (Northern Colorado), 9-0
Champ Rnd 2: Michael Kroells dec Boyce Cornwell (Gardner Webb), 4-1
Quarters: Michael Kroells dec No. 19 Billy Miller (Edinboro), 10-8
Rylee Streifel (2-2)
Champ Rnd 1: No. 12 Jared Johnson (Chattanooga) dec Rylee Streifel, 4-0
Cons Rnd 1: Bye
Cons Rnd 2: Rylee Streifel maj dec Connor Tolley (Chattanooga), 10-2
Cons Rnd 3: Rylee Streifel dec Ethan Stanley (Navy), 7-0
Cons Rnd of 8: No. 13 Doug Vollaro (Lehigh) dec Rylee Streifel, 6-3