True freshman Lizak steps up

Ethan Lizak had his redshirt taken off and has been wrestling at 125.

Danny Chen

Injuries and weight management issues gave a freshman wrestler an opportunity to compete at the varsity level.

Ethan Lizak, the Gophers’ 125-pounder, was thrust into competing against top-ranked opponents in just the 10th dual meet of the season — and his first of the kind.

Originally listed as a redshirt freshman, the Gophers reconsidered his eligibility and decided to pull his redshirt.

“The initial plan at the start of the season was for him to redshirt,” head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “But as things [occurred] as they do in the middle of the season, we had to consider filling Ethan in the 125-pound spot.”

Two other Gophers wrestlers were ahead of him in the 125-pound depth chart — redshirt sophomores Sam Brancale and Jordan Bremer.

Brancale competed in four dual meets at 125 pounds and was ranked 18th in the nation at one point.

Bremer also appeared in four dual meets.

“Brancale was the frontrunner, and he was having a hard time making weight consistently,” Eggum said. “And on top of that, he ended [up] injuring his shoulders. At that point, Bremer filled in and did what we thought was a great job coming out and fighting. But he also suffered an injury.”

The first varsity meet in which Lizak wrestled was against then-No. 6 Penn State, whose 125-pound wrestler was ranked No. 8 in the country.

The result was a 13-3 major decision loss, and Lizak still had room for improvement.

 He said he knew the match was going to be tough, especially with a large crowd.

“The arena was packed,” Lizak said. “I was a bit nervous in that match.”

Volunteer assistant coach Jayson Ness, who has been working with Lizak, said the freshman was put in a difficult position against Penn State.

“Penn State is the defending national champion, and [Lizak] had to wrestle a top opponent in the last match of the night,” Ness said. “I thought he handled it pretty well.”

Since his first varsity match, Lizak has wrestled in four other meets, posting a 2-3 record overall.

In his last meet against North Dakota State in the NWCA National Duals first round, Lizak upset No. 13 Josh Rodriguez with a 2-1 decision.

He credited his gradual improvement on the mat with the amount of time that he has been working with his coaches, especially Ness.

“[Ness] has been helping me [fine-tune] things,” Lizak said. “Earlier in my first couple matches on varsity, I was trying to do too much, like throwing a leg too early or trying to break my opponent down too quick. [Ness] got me to pace myself and focus on getting wrist control and not working too hard for my turns.”

Ness said it has been easy to get through to Lizak because he is very coachable.

“He really listens to what you have to say,” Ness said. “And he does a great job of doing what you tell him to do.”

Lizak has not completely finished his true freshman season yet, with the NWCA quarterfinals and the Big Ten championships ahead.

Eggum said his goal for Lizak is to continue to be hungry.

“He’s shown in the past week that he can wrestle with the best guys in his weight,” Eggum said. “The goal right now is to keep getting better and not focus on winning or losing.”