First 2 meets to help shape roster

Minnesota will wrestle Friday against Hofstra and Saturday at the Bison Open.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota has opened its season at the Bison Open for seven consecutive years.

That will change this weekend when the Gophers host Hofstra on Friday before trekking to Fargo, N.D., for the Bison Open on Saturday.

 “It’s not a perfect situation,” assistant coach Brandon Eggum said, “but it’s a good test for them early in the season.”

Tony Nelson (heavyweight) said he’s just excited to get back on the mat.

“We’ve been in [the practice room] wrestling the same guys for the last two months, and getting out there and seeing different competition will be nice,” said Nelson, the defending NCAA heavyweight champion.

Eggum said the Gophers will select their 10 starters for the dual with Hofstra and some of those starters will wrestle at the Bison Open.

The Gophers’ roster at the Bison Open is up in the air, but Eggum said it will include “a majority of our starters.”

Hofstra is ranked 25th in the nation and is no pushover for the Gophers. It finished last season 12-3, but it did not compete against the same level of competition as Minnesota.

The Bison Open has an open format, which means wrestlers compete as individuals with no team titles.

Eggum said wrestlers will drive through the night after the dual with Hofstra and have to make weight the next morning in Fargo.

“It’s more of a test to make it a little more difficult on them,” Eggum said. “We train our guys in a way that we want to be the toughest and the best conditioned team in the country.

“We believe no doubt that we are one of those teams.”

Eggum said the coaches will keep a keen eye on the 157-pound weight class over the weekend to see if anyone emerges.

Minnesota has yet to find a replacement after Jake Deitchler left the team last season due to concussions.

The Bison Open is generally littered with lesser talent. Nelson said the team goes to that tournament expecting to dominate.

“It’s usually a good warm-up tournament for us,” he said. “We use this meet to get tuned up, and to do that you have to go out there with that mindset to dominate.”

Kroells wins title competing unattached

The Gophers boast the best college heavyweight wrestler in the nation in Nelson, but his backup — a true freshman heavyweight — turned heads in his first competition with the team.

Michael Kroells competed unattached and won the heavyweight title at the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open last weekend.

Minnesota traveled with 12 underclassmen to the tournament, and Kroells impressed.

He finished 4-0 in the tournament. His path to the title included an 8-4 decision over Nebraska’s returning heavyweight starter Donny Longendyke.

Eggum said the team will definitely redshirt Kroells with Nelson ahead of him on the roster.

“His ultimate goal is to be the guy,” he said. “That’s why guys come here — because they want to be the best in the country. If they come in and are content to wait their turn, this probably isn’t the program for them.”

Nelson said he is excited to have a guy like Kroells on the team this year, but he didn’t sound ready to cede his starting spot just yet.

“It gives me another partner to work with, and he’s a really good guy to compete with in the [practice] room,” he said. “I want to take him under my wing and make sure that when I’m gone, he’s ready to go and step out onto that mat.”