Gophers earn six automatic bids for NCAA championships

Ethan Lizak finished the best of any Minnesota wrestler at the Big Ten championships, coming in second at 125 pounds.

Kaleb Medhanie

Minnesota left the Big Ten conference tournament with six wrestlers qualified for the upcoming NCAA championships.

The No. 17 Gophers finished seventh at the Big Ten championships in East Lansing, Michigan on Friday and Saturday. 

“This tournament is as tough as the national tournament,” head coach Brandon Eggum said. “Coming into it, we knew it was important to get as many guys as we could. At a tournament like that, it makes a big difference.”

Ethan Lizak had the best individual performance of the weekend for the Gophers, finishing second in the 125-pound bracket. He lost in the championship match to Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State, who won the Big Ten championship for the fourth time. 

“I was able to get to my ties better and get my shots off,” Lizak said. “I was in a lot of good scrambles today, especially on top.”

Eggum said that Tommy Thorn was dinged up over the tournament and the team believed it was best for him to sit out. Thorn will still have a chance for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

Brandon Krone, Steve Bleise, Jake Short, Nick Wanzek and Mitch McKee all qualified for the NCAA tournament. Short in the 157-pound bracket and Bleise in the 149-pound bracket, both finished seventh, while Wanzek finished eighth at 165-pounds.  McKee finished fourth in the 133-pound bracket. 

Krone lost in the quarterfinal against Bo Nickal of Penn State, but bounced back by winning in the consolation rounds, with victories to clinch his first berth in the NCAA tournament.

“I kind of told myself I’m meant to be here,” Krone said. “If I compete at the level I know I’m able to compete at, I will be fine.”

For juniors Krone and Bleise, this will both be their first time appearing in the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers  head to the NCAA championships in Cleveland, Ohio, which start on March 15. They’ll look for at-large bids from Thorn, Dylan Anderson and Chris Pfarr. The selection show is on Monday.

“I think you just have to take one match at a time,” Lizak said. “If you try to look too far ahead you’ll lose focus on the guy in front of you and upsets happen every year at the NCAA.”