Lizak, Pfarr lead Gophers to seventh place NCAA finish

The pair were part of four Gophers All-Americans in St. Louis.

Gophers sophomore Ethan Lizak takes on Johnny Jimenez in the Gophers match against the Badgers at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Lizak beat Jimenez 2-0.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers sophomore Ethan Lizak takes on Johnny Jimenez in the Gophers match against the Badgers at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Lizak beat Jimenez 2-0.

Kyle Steinberg

Brett Pfarr only won one state title while at LeSeur-Henderson High School — making it all the more gratifying when he took the mat to wrestle for an NCAA championship last weekend.

The redshirt senior made his first appearance in an NCAA title match at 197 pounds, falling to top-ranked — and Olympic bronze medalist — J’den Cox of Missouri by 8-2 decision.

“I made the most of every moment,” said Pfarr. “It was an incredible experience.”

Joining Pfarr as a national runner-up — and major contributor to Minnesota’s 7th place finish — was redshirt sophomore Ethan Lizak at 125 pounds.

Lizak came into the tournament seeded sixth, and got a bit of help when third-seed Nick Suriano withdrew prior to the tournament, and second-seed Joey Dance was upset in the quarterfinals.

Lizak took full advantage, fighting his way through the bracket to meet fellow Pennsylvania native Darian Cruz in the final.

Cruz gained control of the bout with an early takedown, and never allowed Lizak much time to wrestle on top—his strongest position. The Gopher challenged late to no avail, falling by a 6-3 decision.

“I think everything just came together for me this tournament,” said Lizak.

In addition to Pfarr and Lizak’s runner-up performances, the Gophers added two more All-Americans in Tommy Thorn at 141 pounds and Michael Kroells at heavyweight.

Thorn, a redshirt sophomore, earned his first All-America recognition, joining his older brothers Mike and David as Gophers to hold that honor.

Kroells finished his senior season as just the 26th Gopher to be named an All-American three times, taking seventh place honors.

The heavyweight once again tangled with Olympic gold medalist — and eventual national champion — Kyle Snyder in the quarterfinals, and although the Ohio State Buckeye looked to be injured in the bout, Snyder locked up a 13-7 victory.

Kroells kept his hopes alive in the bloodround however, where he won his first match to seal All-American honors, and his second to earn seventh place.

“The tradition [Kroells] kept here as a heavyweight for the University of Minnesota was phenomenal,” said head coach Brandon Eggum. “It was awesome to see him get those bonus points…in the last match of his career.”

The Gophers’ seventh place finish marks the 19th time in the last 21 years they finish among the nation’s top ten, and is a marked improvement over last year’s 17th place showing.

Although Minnesota loses both Pfarr and Kroells next year, the Gophers return starters at the remaining eight weight classes — including seven NCAA qualifiers — suggesting the future is bright.

“We have to make sure we continue to work on the foundation that’s been so successful for us, and that’s working hard and putting time in,” said Eggum.