Strong start has Gophers in fourth at Big Tens

Minnesota got off to a fast start Saturday morning in the opening session of the 2017 Big Ten Championships, winning eight of its first 10 matches and putting five wrestlers through to the evening’s semifinals. That early success, along with a few key wins in the evening, helped Minnesota hold down fourth place after the first day of competition in Bloomington, Ind.

“The big thing for us was building good momentum going through the first session,” said Head Coach Brandon Eggum. “Guys are wrestling with a lot of excitement and fight and passion, and wrestling that way has accumulated a lot of points for us. We are wrestling at a high level right now and when I say that, that’s about more than the wins. It’s about the effort.”

Top-seeded 197-pounder Brett Pfarr led the way for Minnesota, as he often has this season. Pfarr scored bonus points in each of his three victories, all major decisions, on his way to tomorrow’s title match, where he’ll take on Kollin Moore (Ohio State). Pfarr is 2-0 against Moore this season, with wins at the Cliff Keen Invitational and in a February dual.

minnlogo“Brett’s done an exceptional job as a leader for this team. He racked up three major decisions today and that one in the semifinals was very exciting to see. To come back from giving up the first takedown and still get a major against a good wrestler, that’s impressive,” said Eggum.

Though Pfarr was the only one of the Gophers’ semifinal quintet to advance to the championship bout at his weight, his four teammates scored critical points with their early wins and are positioned well to score more tomorrow if they’re able to grab wins in the morning’s consolation semifinals.

Most surprising among this group, based on seeding, was Mitch McKee at 133 pounds. After surviving an overtime battle with Eli Stickley (Wisconsin), McKee scored a major upset in the quarterfinals in impressive fashion, earning an 11-3 major over second-seeded Eric Montoya (Nebraska). The win avenged a 13-6 loss to Montoya in January. McKee fell to the backside of the bracket after a 7-1 loss to Cory Clark (Iowa).

Wrestling to their seeds by advancing to the semifinals were Tommy Thorn at 141 pounds, Jake Short at 157, and heavyweight Michael Kroells.

After an opening-round pin, Thorn doubled up Topher Carton (Iowa), 8-4, then lost a heartbreaking overtime decision to Javier Gasca (Michigan State). In a match that featured several extended scrambles that did not lead to points, the pair went to overtime tied at one, where Gasca came out on top of yet another scramble to take the 3-1 victory.

Short survived a nail-biter in the first round before pounding Kyle Langenderfer (Illinois) in the quarterfinals in a match where Short drew repeated stall calls on his opponent by remaining aggressive on his way to an 11-2 victory. In the semis, Short hung with top seed Jason Nolf through the first two periods before Nolf locked in a cradle to pick up a pin in the third.

Looking at the heavyweight bracket, Kroells knew as the fourth seed he’d likely find Olympic champion Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) in the semifinals. After not surrendering a takedown to his first two opponents on his way to the semis, Kroells gave Snyder a good fight, but was unable to overtake the gold medalist and fell into tomorrow’s wrestlebacks.

Though it’s tough to end a good day on a loss, “I know they’ll feel a lot better if they come through and finish the way they should tomorrow,” said Eggum. “They should be motivated by their own finish and by how they can help how the team finishes. We’ve had a great tournament so far. That should motivate them.”

Among the Gophers in wrestlebacks, Ethan Lizak and Nick Wanzek, at 125 and 165, respectively, each made it to the consolation semifinals. Both went 3-1 on the day, overcoming tough quarterfinal defeats to win a pair of elimination matches and keep potential top-three finishes in play.

All seven of those Gophers have automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships with their performances, but in total eight Minnesota wrestlers know they’ll be in St. Louis. The eighth is Bobby Steveson, who entered the day as the 10th seed at 184 pounds and immediately scored a thrilling upset over seventh-seed Nicholas Gravina (Rutgers). Down two in the match’s final seconds, Steveson picked up a match-tying takedown and then promptly scored the match-winner in sudden victory overtime. After a quarterfinal defeat, another comeback victory in wrestlebacks clinched an automatic berth in the national tournament for the redshirt freshman.

“Bobby qualifying for NCAAs is important because he can score points for us. That first match was gutsy. He comes back and wins that match in overtime, scoring the last three takedowns. That’s impressive. It really sparked the team,” said Eggum.

Also alive for tomorrow is Chris Pfarr, who will wrestle for ninth at 174. The special ninth-place match is needed to decide the final automatic qualifier spot at that weight class for the Big Ten. His morning bout against Jordan Pagano (Rutgers) will be a win-and-in match to earn a place at the national tournament.

Full match-by-match results for all Minnesota wrestlers are available below.

The Gophers will return to the floor of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall beginning with tomorrow at 11 a.m. Central. That session will begin with consolation semifinals, followed by placer matches and finally, championship bouts beginning at 2 p.m. All mats will be streamed live on BTN Plus, with the exception of title matches, which will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.

“We’ve had a great tournament so far and the deeper we get — with the way we train and the way we prepare — the better we should wrestle. No one is going to feel perfect tomorrow. We need to let the guy we’re wrestling tomorrow know that we’re ready to go,” said Eggum. 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.

Big Ten Championships Brackets

Match-by-Match Results

125 – Ethan Lizak
Champ Rnd 1: Ethan Lizak tech fall Brandon Paetzell (Rutgers), 17-2
Quarters: Connor Youtsey (Michigan) dec (SV-1) Ethan Lizak, 5-3
Round of 12: Ethan Lizak fall (1:32) Anthony Rubinetti (Northwestern)
Cons Rnd of 4: Ethan Lizak tech fall Jose Rodriguez (Ohio State), 15-0

133 – Mitch McKee
Champ Rnd 1: Mitch McKee dec (SV-1) Eli Stickley (Wisconsin), 6-4
Quarters: Mitch McKee maj dec Eric Montoya (Nebraska), 11-3
Semis: Cory Clark (Iowa) dec Mitch McKee, 7-1

141 – Tommy Thorn
Champ Rnd 1: Tommy Thorn fall (2:19) Mousa Jodeh (Illinois)
Quarters: Tommy Thorn dec Topher Carton (Iowa), 8-4
Semis: Javier Gasca III (Michigan State) dec (SV-1) Tommy Thorn, 3-1

149 – Carson Brolsma
Champ Rnd 1: Micah Jordan (Ohio State) maj dec Carson Brolsma, 19-7
Cons Rnd 1: Carson Brolsma dec Colin Purinton (Nebraska), 4-1
Round of 12: Ken Theobold (Rutgers) maj dec Carson Brolsma, 11-2

157 – Jake Short
Champ Rnd 1: Jake Short dec Justin Alexander (Maryland), 3-1
Quarters: Jake Short maj dec Kyle Langenderfer (Illinois), 11-2
Semis: Jason Nolf (Penn State) fall (6:09) Jake Short

165 – Nick Wanzek
Champ Rnd 1: Nick Wanzek dec Cody Burcher (Ohio State), 5-1
Quarters: Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin) dec Nick Wanzek, 10-3
Round of 12: Nick Wanzek dec Bryce Martin (Indiana), 5-2
Cons Rnd of 4: Nick Wanzek dec Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern), 4-1

174 – Chris Pfarr
Champ Rnd 1: Jacob Morrissey (Purdue) dec Chris Pfarr, 6-2
Cons Rnd 1: Bye
Round of 12: Devin Skatzka (Indiana) dec Chris Pfarr, 10-9
9th Place Semi: Chris Pfarr dec Micah Barnes (Nebraska), 11-8

184 – Bobby Steveson
Champ Rnd 1: Bobby Steveson dec (SV-1) Nicholas Gravina (Rutgers), 11-9
Quarters: Sammy Brooks fall (4:08) Bobby Steveson
Round of 12: Bobby Steveson dec Mitch Sliga (Northwestern), 4-3
Cons Rnd of 4: Emery Parker (Illinois) fall (5:36) Bobby Steveson

197 – Brett Pfarr
Champ Rnd 1: Brett Pfarr maj dec Jackson Striggow (Michigan), 12-3
Quarters: Brett Pfarr maj dec Christian Brunner (Purdue), 17-7
Semis: Brett Pfarr maj dec Matt McCutcheon (Penn State), 11-3

285 – Michael Kroells
Champ Rnd 1: Michael Kroells maj dec Tyler Kral (Purdue), 8-0
Quarters: Michael Kroells dec Conan Jennings (Northwestern), 3-1
Semis: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) dec Michael Kroells, 14-7

Visit The Guillotine College Tournament Time Page for brackets, results, and live video links.

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