Gopher Wrestling rolls into the center of the college wrestling world this weekend – Cleveland, Ohio – for the 2018 NCAA Championships. This year’s tournament marks the NCAAs return to the 216 for the first time in 20 years. The 1998 event, the only other NCAA Championships held in Cleveland, saw the Gophers finish as national runners-up, the best finish in program history at that time. Minnesota won its first national title just three years later (2001), ultimately claiming three crowns in a six-year span. History aside, seven members of this year’s team are in the 2018 NCAA tournament field.
GOPHERS IN 2018 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (INCLUDING SEEDS)
125: No. 8 Ethan Lizak (24-5)
133: No. 16 Mitch McKee (18-6)
141: Tommy Thorn (19-11)
149: Steve Bleise (18-7)
157: Jake Short (16-11)
165: No. 12 Nick Wanzek (22-10)
184: Brandon Krone (11-8)
SAME TIME LAST YEAR
Powered by two finalists and four All-Americans, the Gophers took seventh at last year’s NCAA Championships in St. Louis. It was the program’s 19th top-10 finish in the past 21 seasons. Two of those four All-Americans will be in action again this year, with Lizak looking to return to the title bout after finishing runner-up at 125 pounds last year, and Thorn looking to build on his first NCAA podium finish.
Also back from last year’s field are McKee, Short, and Wanzek. Each member of that trio had a strong tournament run last year, but each came up just one victory shy of All-American finishes. A new addition to the Gopher roster will also be returning to the NCAA field, as 149-pounder Bleise looks to win one more match this year and earn a spot on the podium after falling in the Round of 12 last year while wrestling for Northern Illinois.
|No. 16 Minnesota at NCAA Championships|
|Date/Time||Thursday-Saturday, March 15-17, 2018 | All Day|
|Location||Quicken Loans Arena|
|Brackets||2018 NCAA Championships Brackets|
|Notes||NCAA Championships Notes|
|Social Media||@GopherWrestling | Facebook | Instagram|
BACK IN ACTION AFTER A B1G WEEKEND
The Gophers will hit the mat for the last time this season over the weekend, but the penultimate event on the schedule each year is the Big Ten Championships, which took place two weeks ago in East Lansing, Mich. Against the stacked competition of the nation’s premier conference tournament, six Gophers earned automatic qualifier spots for the NCAA field, led by three who outperformed their seeding: Lizak (finalist as the fifth seed), Bleise (finished seventh as the ninth seed) and Krone (finished sixth as an unseeded competitor). Additionally, McKee, Short, and Wanzek also guaranteed their spots in the NCAA tournament with their work at Big Tens. The seventh member of the Gophers’ NCAA contingent, Thorn, picked up an at-large berth based on his success throughout the season.
GOPHER WRESTLERS TO WATCH AT NCAAS
Every one of the seven Gophers in this weekend’s tournament has an interesting story to follow.
There is only one step higher up on the podium than where Lizak stood last year, and he’ll look to take that step and win a national title this year. His path as an eight-seed will include a potential quarterfinal contest against Darian Cruz (Lehigh), this year’s top seed and the defending national champ.
Thorn, the Gophers’ other returning All-American, will look to navigate a tough road back to the podium as an unseeded competitor. Thorn took eighth last year after starting the event as the No. 14 seed, so a deep run from a low seed is not unprecedented for him. Another All-American finish would match his older brothers – Mike and Dave – who were each two-time All-Americans at Minnesota.
While Lizak and Thorn hope to again earn All-American awards, four Gophers are hoping they can get at least one more win this year to join them. McKee, Short, Wanzek, along with newcomer Bleise, all dropped blood round bouts last year, leaving them one round shy of a top-eight finish. All four will get another shot this year, but for Short and Wanzek, this tournament will be their last as collegiate wrestlers before graduating later this spring.
Lastly, Krone’s long journey to the NCAA field culminates on Thursday when he makes his national tournament debut. His story is full of intrigue as he wraps up a season during which he wrestled at three separate weights before settling in at 184 and unexpectedly snagging an automatic qualifier spot at last week’s Big Ten tournament.
FOLLOW EVERY MATCH ONLINE OR ON TV
Every match of the 2018 NCAA Championships is available online or on TV.
Session I begins at 11 a.m. Central on Thursday morning with coverage on ESPNU. Coverage of Session II will begin at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
Back to ESPN on Friday morning for Session III, beginning at 10 a.m., and again switching over to ESPN in the evening, with Session IV beginning at 7 p.m.
Saturday morning’s Session V will be on ESPNU starting at 10 a.m., with the championship round starting at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
All mats from all sessions will also be streamed live on ESPN3.
NCAA TOURNAMENT SCORING
As would be expected, the 2018 NCAA Championships will follow standard tournament scoring for the team race. A win in the championship bracket is worth one point, while a wrestleback win is worth .5 points. Falls, forfeits, defaults and disqualifications are worth two points, with a tech fall scoring 1.5 points and a major decision adding one.