Young Minnesota team up and down

Eight first-year wrestlers have started a dual for the team this year.

Steve Polakowski contends against Purdue wrestler Ben Thorton in the 125-pound weight class matchup at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Steve Polakowski contends against Purdue wrestler Ben Thorton in the 125-pound weight class matchup at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Jack White

The Gophers finished eighth at the NCAA Championships last year, but sport just a 7-7 dual record this season.
The team entered this year younger and more inexperienced, and it’s led to big moments as well as disappointing ones.
With unproven athletes in the lineup, Minnesota hasn’t been hesitant to start many different wrestlers this year to find the right mix as a team.
“We’re young. Different guys have had their own struggles and stuff, so [we] try to give other guys opportunities to step in to see where guys are at and give them a chance to step up and maybe fill that starting spot,” head  assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “Injuries have played a role in some sense here or there.”
The Gophers had six new starters in their first meet this season against Grand Canyon.
The team has also had seven redshirt freshmen and one freshman make dual debuts this season. The combined dual record of the eight wrestlers is 20-32.
“It’s been a learning experience. We’re all really young. We have no starting seniors,” redshirt freshman Steve Polakowski said. “You can definitely tell from the beginning of the year until now that we just get better every meet.”
Redshirt freshman Tommy Thorn has the best duals record of the first year wrestlers at 10-4. Thorn is ranked No. 7 at 141 pounds and was one of two wrestlers to earn a victory in the dual against Iowa last week.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Pfarr is also consistently competing for the first time this season and has become more vocal as one of the few experienced wrestlers on the team.
“It’s a lot different from when I was freshman, obviously,” Pfarr said. “Now I feel like there’s only a couple guys that are older than us. You have Brett, my brother, Michael [Kroells] and a couple graduating seniors, but other than that I feel like I’m one of the top classes.”
With so much inexperience at the lower weight classes, the Gophers have relied upon their heavier wrestlers to be consistent.
Redshirt junior Brett Pfarr and redshirt junior Michael Kroells have both been steady this year at 197 and 285 pounds, respectively. The two have a combined dual record of 24-4.
“They’ve done a good job,” Eggum said. “They’ve voiced their opinions, and they have done a good job of trying to help the younger guys understand the expectations here of what we want to create here.”
The Gophers upset then-No. 8 Rutgers on Jan. 17 with three redshirt freshmen in the lineup, one of the highlights of the young team’s season.
But Minnesota lost decisively to Iowa last weekend starting three redshirt freshmen, and the team is still tinkering with lineup changes before this weekend. 
“We’ll be making some changes,” Eggum said. “Potentially, [redshirt freshman Brandon] Krone [is] a guy we’re hoping to have out here wrestling at 165 as an opportunity.
We’re not positive on that yet if he’ll be back, but we’re hoping he can be. [Redshirt junior] Ben Morgan has a good shot at competing.”