Minnesota to host first dual since termination of head coach

J Robinson would’ve been entering his 30th season with the Gophers this year.

Heavyweight senior Michael Kroells takes on South Dakota State Universitys Alex Macki in the wrestling teams home opener at the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 19, 2016, where the Gophers beat SDSU.

Maddy Fox

Heavyweight senior Michael Kroells takes on South Dakota State University’s Alex Macki in the wrestling team’s home opener at the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 19, 2016, where the Gophers beat SDSU.

Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers are wrestling for at the Sports Pavilion for the first time this season – and one notable face will be missing.

Saturday will be their first dual at home since 1986 without former head coach J Robinson at the helm.

Interim head coach Brandon Eggum, who has been on the staff since 2001, said the team has adjusted well without Robinson in the first two opens of the season.

“They’ve been focused, taking care of business,” Eggum said. “They’re doing a good job on the mat and in the classroom. They’re doing well.”

The University fired Robinson on Sept. 7 for his handling of an alleged prescription drug problem among more than a dozen student-athletes on his team.

Eggum, the acting head coach at the time as Robinson was under paid administrative leave in June, was named the interim head coach for the upcoming season.

Robinson would’ve entered his 30th season at Minnesota this year.

“It’s a little different,” said senior wrestler Brett Pfarr. “J was always a very fun guy to be around so we miss his presence. The coaches we have now are the same ones we’ve had all my career so not too much has changed.”

Pfarr returns as one of the team’s top wrestlers from last season.

He was named an All-American in 2015, and is already off to a good start this season. He won a title in the 197A group in Journeymen/Asics Collegiate Classic in Troy, N.Y. last weekend.

“First couple of tournaments have gone pretty well,” Pfarr said. “We’ll be learning more as we go throughout the season.”

Eggum and the Gophers will need a strong season from Pfarr.

Minnesota finished ninth in the Big Ten last year, its lowest finish since 1968.

Michael Kroells, who said he still talks to Robinson, and Pfarr are two key returners, as both were the only All-Americans from the 2015-16 season.

Kroells said himself and the team needs to be good at making quick changes in order to improve their standing.

“The trick is always improving somehow,” Kroells said. “Realize there’s something you need to change, change it, come as close as you can to perfect with it and move on to the next thing.”

Minnesota’s first home dual of the season will be against South Dakota State.

The team will be without redshirt freshman Larry Early, and sophomores Ethan Lizak, Tommy Thorn and Brandon Krone until Jan. 1 as they were suspended in October for violating team rules.

Lizak went 17-4 last season, Thorn went 36-11 and Krone went 11-13.

Eggum said the team is not at full strength for the dual, and pointed to the Jackrabbits placing ahead of them at an earlier open.

“This is going to be a tough dual for us,” Eggum said. “If you look at it on paper … [South Dakota State] placed ahead of us [at the Daktronics Open] in six of the weights. In a ten-weight class dual, that means we need guys to step up. They’re capable of doing that, no doubt about it.”

Jack White contributed to this report.