Meet Me In St. Louis

With nine wrestlers heading to the NCAA Championships, the program’s largest contingent to compete in the event since 2014, Minnesota will be well-represented in St. Louis this weekend. While qualifying nine is a great accomplishment, the Gophers expect to do more than simply show up in the Show Me State. Seven of those nine Gophers are seeded at their weights, including four top-eight seeds, giving Minnesota the potential to turn in one of its better NCAA finishes in recent years.

The opening session of the 2017 NCAA Championships, featuring opening round matches, will begin at 11 a.m. Central on Thursday. The evening session gets started at 6 p.m. Central, with matches from the second round on the championship side and the first round of wrestlebacks. Friday’s action begins at 10 a.m. Central with championship quarterfinals, as well as two more rounds of wrestlebacks. Friday’s evening session begins at 7 p.m., featuring championship semifinals, Round of 12 bouts, and consolation round of four contests. The last day of the Division I wrestling season starts at 10 a.m. Central on Saturday with consolation semifinals and medalist matches before wrapping up with championship matches beginning at 7 p.m. Central.

minnlogoThe ESPN family of networks will carry every match of the 2017 NCAA Championships live, either online or on television. The easy way to remember where to find a match is to split the tournament into day sessions and evening sessions. Day sessions – Sessions I, III and V – will be broadcast on ESPNU with all mats streaming live online at ESPN.com and on the ESPN app. Evening sessions all three days – Sessions II, IV and VI – will be live on ESPN with all mats streaming live online.

In addition to watching live, fans can also keep tabs on the action via live stats on TrackWrestling.com or by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter (@GopherWrestling).

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Looking Back at This Season
Minnesota (7-5, 5-4) finished Brandon Eggum’s first season as head coach with a record of .500 or better for the 25th consecutive year.

The Gophers took on the nation’s toughest home schedule this season, with all seven dual opponents hosted at the Sports Pavilion finishing the regular season ranked in the top 18 by InterMat. The Maroon and Gold knocked off South Dakota State and Wisconsin at home, while dropping matches to Penn State, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska, all of which finished the regular season in the top seven.

Meanwhile, the Gophers ran up a perfect 5-0 record away from the Twin Cities, starting with a weekend sweep of Michigan State and Michigan in December, followed by wins at Indiana and Purdue in January and a season-ending victory at Iowa State in mid-February. It was the first undefeated road campaign for Minnesota since 2012-13.

In addition to its dual schedule, Minnesota’s top lineup wrestled in three tournaments, starting with the Daktronics Open to begin the season. The Dak doesn’t keep a team score, but Minnesota picked up an individual title in the event from Ethan Lizak at 125 pounds, as well as placing four other regular starters: Mitch McKee (2nd), Jake Short (2nd), Nick Wanzek (3rd at 174) and Michael Kroells (2nd). To kick off December, Minnesota wrestled at the Cliff Keen Invitational, where two Gophers won individual titles – Short at 157 and Pfarr at 197 – and placed three more: McKee (4th), Wanzek (8th at 174) and Kroells (3rd). Minnesota rang in the new year in Chattanooga at the Southern Scuffle, where Lizak won another 125 title as one of seven Gopher placewinners, a group including: McKee (6th), Tommy Thorn (7th), Short (5th), Wanzek (4th); B Pfarr (2nd) and Kroells (2nd). In both Vegas and Tennessee, Minnesota finished fourth as a team.

Big Weekend at Big Tens
Minnesota returned to the top-five at the Big Ten Championships after a one-year hiatus. The team’s fifth-place performance gave the Gophers their 20th top-five finish at the conference meet in the past 21 years.

Leading the charge for Minnesota was Brett Pfarr, who finished as the runner-up at 197 pounds. Lizak, with five bonus point wins on the weekend, took third at 125, followed by Kroells’ fourth-place performance at heavyweight.

In all, eight Gophers stood on the podium, with Short (fifth at 157), McKee, Thorn and Wanzek (sixth at 133, 141 and 165, respectively) and Steveson (seventh at 184) all claiming spots on the steps.

The Gophers also automatically qualified Chris Pfarr at 174 pounds. He was placed in a four-man bracket to wrestle-off for the conference’s ninth spot at the weight class. Pfarr went 2-0 in that bracket to claim the final spot and secure his first career trip to the NCAA Championships.

Last Time Around
Minnesota placed 17th in last year’s tournament, the program’s lowest finish in 24 seasons. Five Gophers competed in New York last March, with Thorn, Wanzek (who was then wrestling at 174 pounds), Brett Pfarr and Kroells automatically qualifying and Short (wrestling at 149 pounds) earning a wild card berth.

From that quintet, both Pfarr and Kroells earned All-America status: Pfarr with a third-place finish at 197 and Kroells with a seventh-place finish at 285. The honor was a career first for Pfarr (the 93rd different All-American in Gopher history) and the second for Kroells (the program’s 51st multiple-time All-American).

All five qualifiers from last season return to the field this year, joined by second-time qualifier Lizak (making his second career appearance at NCAAs in St. Louis after wrestling there in 2015 as a true freshman) and first-time qualifiers McKee, Steveson and Chris Pfarr

Parting Shot
Four Gophers are currently seeded for All-America finishes: Brett Pfarr (No. 2 at 197), Lizak (No. 6 at 125), Short (No. 8 at 157) and Kroells (No. 8 at 285). If just two of those four reach the podium in St. Louis, Minnesota will extend to 25 years its active streak of producing multiple All-Americans at the NCAA Championships. That’s a quarter-century without once missing out on multiple All-Americans!

GopherSports.com is your home for Gopher Wrestling news throughout the 2016-17 season. Be sure to follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates.

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