MINNEAPOLIS – The University of Minnesota wrestling program put forth a dominant display at the 52nd annual Bison Open, opening the 2023-24 season with seven championship performances in Fargo, N.D.
Highlighted by returning All-American Michael Blockhus at 157 pounds, the Gophers saw Tyler Wells (133), Blaine Brenner (165), Sam Skillings (174), Max McEnelly (184), Garrett Joles (197) and Bennett Tabor (285) all earn titles in the first action of the season.
Blockhus was all business in his run to the 157-pound title, outscoring his opponents 45-6. His victories included a 19-1 tech fall, a 12-4 major decision and a 14-1 major decision over Boeden Greenley of North Dakota State in the championship. Blockhus, ranked No. 9 in the country by Intermat, now has 50 wins in his career since joining the Maroon and Gold prior to the 2020 season.
One of the best debut performances for the Golden Gophers was Wells, who earned the 133-pound title in dominating fashion. He used two tech falls and a major decision to cruise to the championship, which ended with a victory over teammate, and redshirt sophomore, Jager Eisch. Wells outscored his opponents 53-10, making him the second-highest scoring Gopher at the Open.
One of the most exciting finishes of the championship matches on Saturday was between 197-pounders Joles and Gavin Nelson. Joles, a 285-pound NCAA qualifier last season, took on the freshman and had to use a takedown in the final minute to take a 5-4 lead before Nelson earned an escape to force overtime. In overtime, Joles was able to cap off his championship run with a takedown and an 8-5 decision.
Minnesota’s dominance continued at the 165-pound weight class with Brenner earning his first college tournament title. The Stanley, Wis., native cruised to a 15-0 tech fall win in his opening-round match before earning decisions by scores of 8-6 and 7-1 in the semis and final. He defeated one opponent from SDSU, as well as two from NDSU, including the 7-1 decision over Brendan Howes in the title match.
When the wrestling concluded Saturday it was McEnelly who ended as the tournament’s top scorer with 80 points in four matches. The four-time high school state champion from Waconia, Minn., muscled through his opponents with four straight tech falls to finish the tournament with a scoring advantage of 80-20. The true freshman was not taken down once during the tournament and finished with 26 takedowns himself.
Earning his first title as a Gopher was Tabor, who cruised to a 3-0 mark in Fargo. He earned his place in the championship match with a 4-1 decision over Spencer Trenary of SDSU and a 14-3 major over another Jackrabbit, Kail Wynia. Tabor’s title came against his third SDSU opponent, Bowen McConvile, whom Tabor shut out 4-0.
The final title of the day for the Maroon and Gold came from Sam Skillings at the 174-pound weight class. Skillings made his way to the championship with a tech fall in his opening round match before edging teammate Ethan Riddle 8-7 in the semifinal. After earning a takedown in the opening period in the final, his opponent, teammate Andrew Sparks, had to withdraw due to injury. For Skillings the title is his first at the 174-pound weight class with his previous tournament title coming at 184 pounds back in 2022 at the Last Chance Open.
Minnesota returns to action Thursday with a dual meet at Bucknell that is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. CT.