During the annual NCAA Wrestling Championships Selection Show, the seven University of Minnesota national qualifiers learned their paths for the biggest event in collegiate wrestling next weekend. Three of the Gophers seven qualifiers received a top-16 seed, with the other four will be matched up against seeded opponents.
Ethan Lizak earned the highest seed of the seven participants with the No. 8 seed at 125-pounds. Lizak reached the 2017 NCAA Championship match as the No. 6 seed and finished as the runner-up in the 2018 Big Ten Championship as the No. 5 seed. Lizak will have to face Barlow McGhee of Missouri in the opening round, whom he has never faced. Lizak will be in the top half of the bracket and has a 4-1 record against opponents in that half. Lizak could eventually face Darian Cruz of Lehigh, in a rematch of the 2017 Championship match in the quarterfinals.
Mitch McKee earns the No. 16 seed in the 133-pound bracket. The sophomore held a No. 14 seed in the 2017 NCAA Championships where he reached the round of 12, just one round before becoming an All-American. McKee will wrestle Josh Finesilver of Duke in the opening round, who he has never faced in his career. McKee has three wins over opponents in the 133-pound field this season, and will most likely face one of them in the second round, the No. 1 seed Seth Gross of South Dakota State University.
Senior Nick Wanzek is the final seeded wrestler for the Golden Gophers. He’s seeded 12th at 165-pounds and will take on Keilan Torres of Northern Colorado in the opening round. Wanzek and Torres have never faced in their careers. Wanzek has four wins over grapplers in the 165-pound division. He could face Alex Marinelli of Iowa, who he has already faced twice this season, in the second round.
Last season, Tommy Thorn earned his first career All-American honor after beginning the tournament as the No. 14 seed, he will return to the NCAA Championships, for the first time in his career, as an unseeded wrestler. He has the No. 10 seed, Mason Smith of Central Michigan. Thorn fell to Smith earlier this season at the Cliff Keen Invite, but Thorn could be a dangerous wrestler as he does have three wins over wrestlers in his half of the 141-pound bracket.
Making his first NCAA appearance in a Maroon and Gold singlet will be Steve Bleise in the 149-pound division. Bleise will enter unseeded and will have to face Eleazar Deluca of Rutgers in a pigtail matchup, with the winner facing Grant Leeth of Missouri, the No. 3 seed. Bleise pinned Deluca at the Big Ten Championships and will look to repeat that performance in Cleveland. Bleise could cause some trouble in the bottom half of the bracket; he has four wins this season against foes inside the bracket and finished in the round of 12 last season at Northern Illinois where he was the No. 14 seed.
The 2018 Championships is the second for Jake Short at 157-pounds and this year will wrestle as an unseeded wrestler. Short will face Joshua Shields of Arizona State, the No. 4 seed, in the opening round, an opponent he has not faced this season. Short will have a tough schedule in his bracket with just two wins over opponents in the field.
Brandon Krone makes his first career appearance in the NCAA Championships after his crazy 2017-18 regular season. Krone enters as an unseeded competitor and will have to face Alan Clothier of Appalachian State in a pigtail matchup. The winner will have to wrestle the No. 5 seed, Dom Abounader of Michigan, who Krone fell to at the Big Ten Championships last weekend.
The NCAA Championships are set to begin at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 15 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The gates will open at 11:00 a.m. with two sessions being held on Thursday, two on Friday, beginning at 11:00 a.m., and one on Saturday.
To watch the biggest event in college wrestling, you will be able to do so on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU throughout the weekend. Be sure to follow Gopher Wrestling on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates.