Kroells remains a constant on the mat for Minnesota

The heavyweight wrestler was named an All-American at the end of last year.\

Michael Kroells contends against Purdue wrestler Tyler Kral in the heavyweight weight class matchup at the Sports Pavilion on Jan. 24.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Michael Kroells contends against Purdue wrestler Tyler Kral in the heavyweight weight class matchup at the Sports Pavilion on Jan. 24.

Jack White

The Gophers’ young team is drastically different than the one they sent to the mat a season ago, but redshirt junior Michael Kroells is one of the few constants.
 
 
Kroells, a heavyweight wrestler, is the team’s only returning All-American from last year and is 12-4 in duals this season.
 
 
“I think he’s learned a lot about the game,” head coach J Robinson said. “He’s more confident in what he’s done. He’s more confident in some of the moves he’s doing. He’s moving better. I think with all that, it helps you win matches.”
 
 
Kroells has wrestled in the heavyweight weight class since he was in high school. He was named Mr. Minnesota of wrestling in 2012 and was a two-time individual state champion.
 
 
One of his coaches in high school was former Minnesota All-American wrestler Dan Zilverberg, who Kroells said impacted his college decision.
 
 
“He always used to say, ‘I’ve never had anybody go to the Gophers,’” Kroells said. “We had a ton of guys at my high school … [go to] Division II colleges and even Division I colleges. … He always wanted someone to go to his alma mater.”
 
 
The Belle Plaine, Minn., native redshirted his first season and had a 3-1 dual record in his first season competing for the Gophers.
 
 
The next year he became the team’s heavyweight starter. Kroells was 8-7 in duals as a redshirt sophomore and finished fifth at the Big Ten Championships.
 
 
He went on to earn All-American status at the NCAA Championships, giving Minnesota a heavyweight All-American for the 19th time in the last 23 seasons.
 
 
“It took a lot of pressure off me, I think. A lot of times, people build up in their heads like, ‘What if I never end up being good,’ or ‘What if I never get All-American,’ ” Kroells said. Kind of getting that out of the way just helps me focus on what’s actually getting [me] better.”
 
 
Before Kroells’ second year as a starter, the Gophers lost five starters to graduation. With only two seniors on the roster, some of the members of his class have had to provide extra leadership.
 
 
“We graduated a lot of those stellar seniors last year,” redshirt junior Brett Pfarr said. “I guess there was that leadership void. So it was natural for Michael and I to step up. It’s not like we weren’t leaders last year, but we were still kind of underclassmen.”
 
 
The Gophers’ record is 9-7 this season, and Kroells has remained consistent, ranking No. 9 in his weight class while trying to set an example.
 
 
“If I think that somebody’s having a hard time, [I’ll try to talk] to them,” Kroells said. “And other than that, if I feel like a guy needs to be left alone, [I’ll] leave them alone.”