Full Gopher Lineup Embarks for NCAA Championships

MINNEAPOLIS — No. 12 Minnesota concludes its postseason journey this week at the 2024 NCAA Championships in Kansas City, Mo. The three-day, six-session event will take place at T-Mobile Center starting Thursday, March 21. Linear and streaming coverage will be provided by the ESPN family of networks.

Minnesota is one of seven programs in the country to have a representative at all ten weight classes this season. It’s the fifth time in program history the Gophers have accomplished the feat and the first since 2013. They also did it in 2005, 2002 and 2001.

The Golden Gophers rank sixth in the NCAA all-time with three national titles in program history (2001, 2002, and 2007) and 40 top-10 finishes. The Gophers also have 24 individual national titles among 18 different champions, with nine of those championships coming in the heavyweight division to earn the program’s moniker “Heavyweight U.” The 24 champions rank tied for eighth in NCAA history.

Minnesota is making its seventh appearance at the NCAA Championships under head coach Brandon Eggum (2020 was canceled due to COVID). In the team’s previous six trips, they’ve finished 15th or better five times and no worse than 17th. The best finish came in 2021 when the team tied for seventh. Under Eggum, the Gophers have won two individual NCAA titles, both won at heavyweight by Gable Steveson in 2021-22.

Competition Schedule
Thursday, March 21
11 a.m.: Session I (First Round) – ESPNU
6 p.m.: Session II (Second Round/Wrestlebacks) – ESPN

Friday, March 22
11 a.m.: Session III (Quarterfinals/Wrestlebacks) – ESPNU
7 p.m.: Session IV (Semifinals/Blood Round) – ESPN

Saturday, March 23
10 a.m.: Session V (Medal Round) – ESPNU
6 p.m.: Session VI (Championship Finals) – ESPN

*ESPN+ will have individual mat coverage for all sessions

NCAA Division I National Championships
March 21-23, at Kansas City, Mo.
Trackwrestling | Pre-Allocations |WrestleStat | At-Large Selections/Qualifiers | Brackets | Watch

Last Gopher Champion // Finalist // All-American By Weight
125: N/A // Ethan Lizak (2017) // Patrick McKee (2022)
133: Jayson Ness (2010) // Jayson Ness (2010) // Aaron Nagao (2023)
141: N/A // N/A // Jake Bergeland (2022)
149: Dustin Schlatter (2006) // Dylan Ness (2012) // Michael Blockhus (2023)
157: Luke Becker (2002) // Dylan Ness (2014) // Brayton Lee (2021)
165: N/A // N/A // Danny Zilverberg (2014)
174: N/A // N/A // Devin Skatzka (2020)
184: N/A // Roger Kish (2006) // Kevin Steinhaus (2014)
197: Damion Hahn (2004) // Brett Pfarr (2017) // Brett Pfarr (2017)
HWT: Gable Steveson (2022) // Gable Steveson (2022) // Gable Steveson (2022)

NCAA NUGGETS
Sixth-year senior Patrick McKee has earned the No. 9 seed (second best of his career) at 125 pounds and will face No. 24 Kysen Terukina of Iowa State in the first-ever matchup between the pair. It’s the fifth time that McKee has qualified for NCAAs, and he’s a two-time All-American. After placing third in 2021 and fifth in 2022, he’s looking to become the 29th three-time All-American in Gophers history. McKee, who has won at least two matches in each of his trips to the NCAA Tournament and is 14-5 all-time at the event, is coming off a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Championships. With a 15-6 record on the season, he went 4-6 against the field at 125.

One of five Gophers making their NCAA Championships debut, true freshman Tyler Wells makes his NCAA debut as the No. 20 seed at 133 pounds. He’ll open against Bucknell’s No. 13 seed Kurt Phipps in a rematch from a November dual when Wells upset then-No. 17 Phipps, 11-5. Wells earned an at-large bid after a 13-6 regular season and was 6-3 in duals, including a 5-2 mark in Big Ten action. He went 5-4 against the field this year, with one additional loss via medical forfeit.

Wells is the first Minnesota true freshman to compete at NCAAs since teammate Andrew Sparks (165) in 2021 and the first to do so at 133 pounds since Mitch McKee in 2017. He is one of 26 true freshmen in the field this season and one of three at 133 pounds.

Like Wells, redshirt sophomore Vance VomBaur is also making his debut at the NCAA Championships. Seeded 27th at 141 pounds, VomBaur placed seventh at the Big Ten Championships. VomBaur recorded a 5-7 mark versus the field during the regular season and was 16-8 overall. He drew No. 6 Lachlan McNeil of North Carolina in a rematch from the Soldier Salute in late December that McNeil won 7-4.

Fellow redshirt sophomore Drew Roberts is also making his first appearance at NCAAs. The No. 23 seed at 149 pounds, Roberts earned his spot with a ninth-place finish at Big Tens. Roberts has a 19-8 record entering NCAAs, including a 4-6 tally against those at 149. In the first meeting between them, he’s paired up against No. 10 Chance Lamer of Cal Poly.

An All-American last year at 149 pounds, sixth-year senior Michael Blockhus bumped up to 157 pounds this year and has grabbed the No. 13 seed, which is tied for the second-best of his career. He’ll take on No. 20 Max Brignola of Lehigh. Blockhus, who is the first Gopher to compete at the weight at NCAAs since 2021, earned an at-large bid after injury defaulting out of the Big Ten Championships. Making his fourth trip to NCAAs as a Gopher, he’s 15-3 on the season, including a 5-3 record against the field, though one of those losses was by injury default.

Redshirt sophomore Blaine Brenner joins the group of Minnesota first-timers at the NCAA Championships. Qualifying with an eighth-place finish at Big Tens, Brenner has garnered the No. 27 seed at 165 pounds. His seed is the best for a Gopher at the weight since 2021 and the second best since 2018. Brenner has competed in a team-high 31 matches this year, going 19-12, including a 4-10 record versus the 165 field. It’ll be a Big Ten showdown in the first round as he’s paired up with Iowa’s No. 6 Mike Caliendo for the third time this year. Caliendo won by tech fall at the Soldier Salute and by decision in conference action in mid-January.

Senior Andrew Sparks is making his third career appearance at the NCAA Championships, though it’s his first at 174 pounds after competing at 165 pounds in his previous two trips in 2021 and 2023. Seeded 24th at 174, which ties for the best seed of his career, Sparks is 13-8 on the season with a sixth-place finish at Big Tens. Against the rest of the field, Sparks is 1-7. He’s drawn No. 9 Carter Starocci of Penn State, a three-time NCAA champion. The two were supposed to meet at the Big Ten Championships this year, but Starocci had to injury default.

Coming off a Big Ten title at 184 pounds, senior Isaiah Salazar has claimed the No. 2 seed. It’s tied for the highest seed at the weight in Gopher history, along with head coach Brandon Eggum in 1999 and Roger Kish in 2006, both of whom finished as national runner-up. Salazar is an impressive 21-1 on the season and 5-1 against the rest of the 184-pound field. He’ll take on No. 31 Tony Negron of Arizona State in the first-ever meeting between the pair.

Historically, every Minnesota Big Ten champion at 184 pounds has earned All-American honors that season. Eggum was a finalist in 1999 and placed third in 2000, Kish was runner-up in 2006, and Kevin Steinhaus and Damion Hahn placed fifth in 2012 and 2002, respectively.

Sixth-year senior Garrett Joles is making a return trip to NCAAs, but he’s at 197 pounds this year after competing as a heavyweight a year ago. His No. 22 seed is tied for the best by a Gopher at 197 since 2017. Joles placed fifth at Big Tens and is 22-8 on the year, leading the team in wins. He’s got a 4-8 mark against the rest of the qualifiers at 197 pounds. Joles will see a familiar foe in Maryland’s No. 11 Jaxon Smith. The two just met at the Big Ten Championships with Smith winning by major decision.

Redshirt sophomore Bennett Tabor is the fifth Gopher to be competing in his first NCAA Championships. Competing at heavyweight in every match this season for Minnesota, Tabor has gone 20-7 on the year, including a 1-2 mark at Big Tens. He’s gone 1-4 so far this season versus the other heavyweights in the field. He drew the No. 31 seed and will face second-seeded Yonger Bastida of Iowa State, the reigning Big 12 champion.

Big Ten Championships Recap
The Golden Gophers are heading into NCAAs after the Big Ten Championships saw Isaiah Salazar take home the 184-pound title in College Park, Md. Salazar was one of six Gophers to reach the podium, and Minnesota finished in seventh place with 74 points. It’s the fourth year in a row, and seventh time in eight years, that the team has finished seventh or better under Eggum.

Salazar is the first Gopher conference champion since Gable Steveson won three titles in a row at heavyweight from 2020-22. He is also the first to do it at 184 pounds since Kevin Steinhaus in 2012. He joins Roger Kish (2006), Damion Hahn (2002), and Gophers head coach Brandon Eggum (1999-00) as the only Gophers to win the Big Ten title at 184.

In addition to Salazar, Patrick McKee was runner-up at 125 pounds, Garrett Joles placed fifth at 197, Andrew Sparks came in sixth at 174, Vance VomBaur was seventh at 141, and Blaine Brenner reached the podium in eighth at 165.

SENSATIONAL SALAZAR
Minnesota senior Isaiah Salazar has been one of the team’s most reliable performers this season. He has a 21-1 record and is undefeated in duals (11-0), Big Ten action (7-0), and against ranked opponents (7-0) at 184 pounds.

Ranked 10th or better all season, Salazar has seven wins by tech fall and four by major decision.

He started the year 6-0 before dropping an 11-5 decision to Missouri’s Colton Hawks at the Cougar Clash in early December. Salazar hasn’t lost since, winning his last 15 matches.

Six of the 15 wins during the streak have been by bonus points, with four tech falls and two majors. In addition, seven have come over ranked opponents, including a 4-1 decision over then-No. 3 Lenny Pinto of Nebraska on Jan. 19 and an 8-1 SV1 win over then-No. 6 Bernie Truax in the Big Ten Championships.

During the streak, Salazar has outscored opponents 143-17 and has not allowed more than three points in any match. In fact, he’s given up two points or fewer in 13 of the 15 matches.

BLOCKHUS AT HIS BEST
Minnesota sixth-year senior Michael Blockhus has been nearly unbeatable this season after moving up a weight class to 157 pounds.

Blockhus is 15-3 on the season, 12-1 in duals, 8-0 in the Big Ten and 6-2 against ranked opponents.

His lone loss during the regular season came to George Mason’s DJ McGee, who was unranked on Nov. 18 but is the No. 22 seed in the tournament. The No. 2 seed at the Big Ten Championships, Blockhus had an unfortunate end to his tournament. He required medical attention in the quarterfinals versus Michigan’s No. 7 Will Lewan and was pinned. Blockhus then injury defaulted in the consolation.

Blockhus has three tech falls, three major decisions, and two pins this season.

Entering Big Tens, Blockhus had won his last ten matches, including two wins each by tech fall and major decision, as well as one pin. Six of the ten matches came against ranked opponents, ranging from 2nd to 33rd, and Blockhus won them all.

A pair of top-three victories earned Blockhus Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors on Jan. 30. Ranked 11th at the time, Blockhus upset then-No. 2 Jared Franek of Iowa in a 5-4 decision on Monday, Jan. 15. Franek led 4-1 through two periods and was up 4-2 with 20 seconds to go when Blockhus took him down and got the win. That Friday against Nebraska, Blockhus, who had moved up to 10th in the Intermat rankings, added a victory over No. 3 Peyton Robb, 12-6. Blockhus was the first Gopher to be named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week since Michial Foy earned the honor on Dec. 1, 2022.

WEEKLY HONORS GO TO MCKEE
After his pin helped propel Minnesota to a 28-12 dual win over Wisconsin (details below), Patrick McKee was named co-Big Ten Wrestler of the Week on Feb. 21.

It’s the second time in his career that McKee has been named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week, also doing so on Jan. 19, 2021, when he went 2-0 in a conference tri-meet, including a win over the No. 2 ranked wrestler at the time.

Since the Big Ten started awarding weekly honors in the 1998-99 season, McKee has become the 12th Gopher to earn multiple career accolades

With teammate Michael Blockhus being named the conference’s Wrestler of the Week on Jan. 23 earlier this year, this is the first time the Gophers have had more than one winner in a season since 2020-21 when McKee was joined by Michial Foy. Prior to that, it had not happened since 2016-17.

SEASON RESET
The Maroon & Gold are coming off an impressive 11-2 regular season, with the only losses coming to Iowa and Nebraska, who finished second and third, respectively, in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll. Minnesota’s .846 win percentage is its best since posting a .933 percentage (14-1 record) in 2013-14.

The Gophers went 6-2 in Big Ten action this year, their best conference record since going 7-2 in the 2020-21 campaign.

Minnesota started 5-0 in dual competition for the second straight season. Prior to that, it had not happened since the Gophers opened the 2014-15 campaign with ten straight dual wins.

When the Gophers moved to Big Ten action, they started with losses to then-No. 3 Iowa and then-No. 6 Nebraska but have since responded with six straight conference wins over then-No. 13 Rutgers, Maryland, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

During the six-match win streak, Minnesota has outscored opponents 181-48 and hasn’t allowed more than 12 points in any dual.

The Gophers shut out Northwestern, 39-0, on Feb. 4. It was the first shutout of a conference opponent since a 48-0 win against Maryland in 2021 and, coupled with a 52-0 win over Morgan State on Nov. 18, was the second shutout of the season for Minnesota. It’s just the second time in the last 22 years that Minnesota posted two shutouts in the same season. The last time it happened came in 2018-19, and prior to that, it had not occurred since 2001-02.

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