Nine Golden Gophers will be competing at the 2021 NCAA Wrestling Championships next week in St. Louis after the NCAA announced at-large bids for redshirt freshman Marcos Polanco and true freshman Andrew Sparks.
The pair will join automatic qualifiers Jake Allar, Michael Blockhus, Boo Dryden, Brayton Lee, Patrick McKee, Gable Steveson and Owen Webster who all qualified with their placements at the Big Ten Championships.
Hailing from West Covina, Calif., Polanco earned the starting position at 141 pounds after wrestling in just six matches during his 2019-20 redshirt season. He finished the regular season with a 5-4 record with all four setbacks coming against top-13 ranked opponents. Polanco also picked up a win in his first conference tournament appearance last weekend.
A native of Costa Mesa, Calif., Sparks finished his first regular season with an 8-1 record at 165 pounds. Entering the Big Ten Championships as the No. 5 seed, Sparks split his first two matches before falling in his consolation match after suffering an injury early in the first period. Sparks was a 2020 California state champion and signed with Minnesota in April despite not being able to visit campus due to the pandemic.
Of Minnesota’s nine entrants, Steveson is the lone Gopher to have NCAA Championship experience after finishing third as a freshman in 2019. Blockhus, Lee, McKee and Webster qualified for the 2020 tournament, which was subsequently canceled.
The 2021 NCAA Championships will be held at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo., March 18-20. Tournament brackets and final seeding will be announced at 5 p.m. Central on Wednesday.