Gopher’s Postseason Starts with Big Ten Championships

MINNEAPOLIS – No. 12 Minnesota starts its postseason journey this weekend at the 2024 Big Ten Championships in College Park, Md. The two-day, four-session event will take place at XFINITY Center starting Saturday, March 9. Linear and streaming coverage will be provided by Big Ten Network and B1G+, respectively, while live results will be available on TrackWrestling.com.

The Maroon and Gold are coming off an impressive 11-2 regular season with the only losses coming to Iowa and Nebraska, who are ranked 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.

The Golden Gophers are seeking the program’s 13th Big Ten title, which would match Indiana for third-most in conference history. Iowa has won 37 championships, followed by Illinois with 17. Minnesota ranks third with 96 individual titles, behind Iowa (210) and Michigan (128). The Golden Gophers broke a 40-year title drought with its 1999 championship, and they added titles in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007.

Big Ten Championships
March 9-10, at College Park, Md.
Trackwrestling | Watch: B1G+ • Big Ten Network/FOX Sports app | Pre-Seeds

Minnesota Big Ten Match Notes

Minnesota is making its eighth appearance at the Big Ten Championships under head coach Brandon Eggum. In the team’s previous seven trips, they’ve finished eighth or better each year, including a fourth-place finish in 2019. Under Eggum, the Gophers have won three individual Big Ten titles, all won at heavyweight by Gable Steveson from 2020-22.

Minnesota Championship Roster (Intermat ranking)
125: No. 4 seed Patrick McKee (No. 5)
133: No. 8 seed Tyler Wells (No. 19)
141: No. 9 (tie) seed Vance VomBaur (No. 26)
149: No. 9 seed Drew Roberts (No. 19)
157: No. 2 seed Michael Blockhus (No. 4)
165: No. 10 seed Blaine Brenner (No. 32)
174: No. 9 seed Andrew Sparks (No. 31)
184: No. 1 seed Isaiah Salazar (No. 5)
197: No. 5 seed Garrett Joles (No. 20)
HWT: No. 8 seed Bennett Tabor (No. 30)

Competition Schedule
Saturday, March 9
9:00 a.m. CT – Session I (First Round/Quarterfinals/Wrestlebacks) – BTN
4:00 p.m. CT – Session II (Consolation Matches/Wrestlebacks) – B1G+
6:00 p.m. CT – Session II (Semifinals) – BTN

Sunday, March 10
11:00 a.m. CT – Session III (Consolation Semifinals/7th Place Matches) – B1G+
3:30 p.m. CT – Session IV (1st/3rd/5th Place Matches) – BTN

PRE-SEED NUGGETS
Led by No. 1 Isaiah Salazar at 184 pounds, Minnesota heads into the championships with seven wrestlers seeded within the conference allocations determined by the NCAA last week, including four Gophers who slot in within the top five in their weight class.

At 125 pounds, Patrick McKee is the No. 4 seed, tying for the second best seed of his career. His top seed (No. 3) came as a redshirt freshman in 2020, while he was also seeded fourth in 2021.

Tyler Wells is making his B1G championship debut as the No. 8 seed at 133 pounds. He’s the first Gopher to compete as a true freshman at Big Tens since teammate Andrew Sparks (165) did so in 2021. The last Minnesota wrestler to do so at 133 was Mitch McKee in 2017.

Looking to build off last season’s runner-up finish at 149 pounds, sixth-year senior Michael Blockhus grabbed the No. 2 seed in the 157-pound field. Dylan Ness in 2015 was the last 157-pounder for Minnesota to be ranked second or higher, while current head assistant coach Luke Becker was the No. 1 seed in 2002 and the second seed his other three years of competition.

At 174 pounds, Andrew Sparks is making his third career Big Ten championship appearance. He’s the No. 9 seed after also earning the same number at 165 pounds last season. As a freshman in 2021, he was the No. 5 seed at 165.

Isaiah Salazar claimed the top seed at 184 pounds. The only undefeated wrestler against the field at the weight class, Salazar finished fourth a year ago at Big Tens and eighth as a sophomore. Since the current weight classes were established in 1999, the only other Gophers to be the top seed at 184 pounds were Kevin Steinhaus in 2012 and current head coach Brandon Eggum in 2000.

After bumping to heavyweight a year ago, sixth-year senior Garrett Joles is back to 197 pounds as he claimed the No. 5 seed. Joles is making his third career appearance at Big Tens after being seeded No. 11 in both 2021 at 197 and last year at heavyweight.

GOPHERS VS. THE FIELD
At 125 pounds, Patrick McKee has gone 4-4 against the field this year. His win total and win percentage both rank seventh among the field. Three of the four losses have come against Matt Ramos of Purdue and Drake Ayala of Iowa (two), who are the first and second seeds. McKee also has wins over third-seed Eric Barnett of Wisconsin and No. 5 Caleb Smith of Nebraska.

Tyler Wells is 3-2 this season against the 133-pound field. He is sixth at the weight class in win percentage vs. the field and seventh in wins. Both losses came against current top-25 wrestlers, while one of his wins was over Rutgers’ Dylan Shawver, who is the No. 2 seed.

Vance VomBaur is 2-4 versus the 141-pound class. All four losses have come to wrestlers seeded 7th or better.

At 149 pounds, Drew Roberts has gone 3-4 against the field this year. Like VomBaur, all four losses of Roberts’ losses to the field have come to wrestlers seeded 7th or better.

Michael Blockhus went 7-0 against those at 157 pounds, making him one of two undefeated against the field along with Penn State’s Levi Haines, who was 6-0. Among those seven wins are victories over fourth-seed Jared Franek of Iowa and No. 5 Peyton Robb of Nebraska.

Blaine Brenner is 1-5 versus the 165-pound field with his win coming over Illinois’ Chris Moore, who is seeded 11th. All five losses were against those ranked seventh or better, including two losses against third-seeded Mikey Caliendo of Iowa and one against Wisconsin’s top-seeded Dean Hamiti.

At 174 pounds, Andrew Sparks went 2-3 during the regular season against the field. All three losses came versus those seeded seventh or higher.

Isaiah Salazar is the only undefeated wrestler against the field at 184 pounds. He was 7-0 against his competition, including a 4-1 decision over No. 2 seed Lenny Pinto of Nebraska.

Only three others at 197 pounds had more wins against the field this year than Garrett Joles’ five. Joles, who was 5-3, has a win over No. 7 seed John Poznanski of Rutgers while all three losses were to those currently seeded fourth or better.

With a 3-1 record against the field at heavyweight, Bennett Tabor is tied for third at the weight with his .750 win percentage. His loss was versus fourth-seed Yaraslau Slaikouski of Rutgers.

A full history of Minnesota’s wrestlers against their respective fields can be found on the final two pages of the notes.

CONFERENCE ALLOCATIONS
This season the NCAA has awarded the Big Ten conference with 85 automatic qualifier spots across 10 weight classes for the NCAA Championships, which is the most of any conference in Division-I wrestling. Once the conference tournament has concluded and all qualifying bids have been assigned, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will consider all non-qualified competitors for the remaining 47 at-large bids.

Weight-by-weight allocations for this weekend’s conference tournament are as follows:
125 – 9
133 – 7
141 – 11
149 – 9
157 – 9
165 – 10
174 – 8
184 – 8
197 – 7
HWT – 7

Last Gopher B1G Champion/Finalist by Weight
125: Jayson Ness (2007) / Ethan Lizak (2013)
133: Chris Dardanes (2015) / Aaron Nagao (2023)
141: Mike Thorn (2010) / Mike Thorn (2011)
149: Dylan Ness (2013) / Michael Blockhus (2023)
157: C.P. Schlatter (2007) / Dylan Ness (2015)
165: Jacob Volkmann (2004) / Matt Nagel (2006)
174: – / Logan Storley (2012)
184: Kevin Steinhaus (2012) / Brett Pfarr (2015)
197: Damion Hahn (2004) / Brett Pfarr (2017)
HWT: Gable Steveson (2022) / Gable Steveson (2022)

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