Seven Gophers wrestlers place in Big Ten tournament

Minnesota’s individual performances placed seven of the ten Gophers wrestlers.

Gable Steveson stands on the podium after receiving his second place award on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Steveson lost the match against Anthony Cassar of Penn State 4-3.

Image by Elle Moulin

Gable Steveson stands on the podium after receiving his second place award on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Steveson lost the match against Anthony Cassar of Penn State 4-3.

by David Mullen

The Gophers wrestling team (14-3, 7-2 Big Ten) walked away from the Big Ten wrestling Championship with their heads held high, as six wrestlers placed in the top five leading to 101.5 points and a fourth place finish. 

Although four of Minnesota’s wrestlers made it to the third place match, top-ranked heavy weight freshman Gable Steveson advanced to the championship match after winning three matches, which extended his winning streak to 30.

Sunday, however, the season-long streak ended with Steveson’s first loss as a Gopher wrestler to No. 3 Anthony Cassar from Penn State in a 4-3 decision. Cassar scored his final two points after he took down Steveson with just under 30 seconds left.

“It just makes you more hungry, you know; I learned that I can’t give up shots with 30 seconds left,” Steveson said. “He knows I’m coming again, and I know he’s coming again, … we’re going to see each other.”

Eggum said Steveson’s loss comes with many learning opportunities. “That’s the great thing — you get a chance now to learn from this and grow from it,” Eggum said.

After the tournament was over, Steveson was announced as the Big Ten freshman of the year.

Six other Gopher wrestlers placed over the weekend, leading to the team’s fourth place finish. Sean Russell at 125 pounds, Ethan Lizak at 133 pounds and Devin Skatzka at 174 pounds placed third in the tournament. Mitch McKee in 141 placed fourth, Tommy Thorn at 149 placed fifth and Steve Bleise placed sixth at 157.

“I thought the team wrestled really well. A lot of weights wrestled higher than our seeds, so that’s always a good thing,” Lizak said.

Russell and Lizak’s paths to third place were rather different, as Russell was still in the championship bracket until the semi-finals Saturday night. Lizak lost in the second round, however, and went on to sweep the field on the constellation side.

Although Russell won two matches early, he was topped in the semi-finals for the second time this season by Iowa’s Spencer Lee. However, he swept in the constellation bracket concluding with a dominating 6-0 decision for third.

In the third place match, Lizak faced off against Iowa’s Austin DeSanto, who had downed Lizak earlier in the season 6-1 in January. This time however, Lizak got the last laugh.

“I think I had a better game plan going into this match,” Lizak said. “After I wrestle a guy once, I can make a lot bigger adjustments, and I kind of know what I’m going into.”

Lizak started fast by getting two quick points off a take down, and there was no looking back. He came out victorious with a 6-2 decision and revenge for the January loss.

Skatzka also made it to the semi-finals after two victories early on Saturday. He was paired up with top-ranked Mark Hall from Penn State. Hall placed first in 174. 

Skatzka went head-to-head with Nebraska’s Michael Labriola. It wouldn’t be until the final five seconds that Skatzka pulled away with a take down, clinching a 4-2 third place finish.

For both days of the tournament, Williams Arena was packed as a sell-out crowd reacted to their respective teams’ performances throughout each day. 

In the opening session, everything was going Minnesota’s way as every wrestler advanced to the second session. Only two wrestlers failed to stay in the championship bracket in the first, but the Gophers tied in sending the second-most wrestlers to the semi-finals. 

Minnesota ended the afternoon session in second place of the team tournament with 54 points, trailing only Penn State who had 77.

Even though the Gophers sent five wrestlers to the semi-finals, only Steveson advanced to the championship match in Saturday’s evening session. 

Eggum said Minnesota will be sending at least eight wrestlers to Pittsburgh to compete in the NCAA Tournament later this month.