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UMN wrestlers hope to qualify for NCAA Tournament this weekend

Minnesota has eight wrestlers pre-seeded within the Big Ten’s allocations for the NCAA tournament as the Gophers look to build off their fifth-place regular season Big Ten finish.
The Gophers will compete in Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday and Sunday.
Image by Elle Moulin
The Gophers will compete in Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday and Sunday.

The annual Big Ten Wrestling Tournament will take place Saturday and Sunday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with live coverage across both days on Big Ten Network and B1G+. 

The Gophers put together an impressive regular season, finishing fifth within the Big Ten as a team; they are currently ranked No. 12 in the country. 

In preparing for the tournament, each program’s starting wrestlers are voted on by the conference’s coaches in all 10 weight classes, making “pre-seeds” for the tournament. Minnesota has eight individual wrestlers seeded and six within the top six of their weight class.

Head Coach Brandon Eggum talked about the importance of the individual matchups as opposed to the Big Ten dual matchups they competed in for most of the season.

“Those head-to-head wins or losses are what really affect them for their seeds at the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA tournament because they will be competing against ranked guys in every weight for the most part,” he said. “Even in some of those duals, I think the difference-maker is when you win the close one.”

Earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament allows a wrestler to keep the dream of a national title alive for two more weeks. Qualifying, though, is a complex process — one that relies heavily on performances at the conference tournament. 

Each conference is awarded a set number of automatic qualifying spots, and any wrestler who finishes within that placement or higher is guaranteed a spot at the national tournament. 

The pre-seeds help coaches determine where their wrestlers stand in their weight class and how high they need to finish to secure a spot at the NCAA championship. Find the Big Ten’s pre-seeds below.

The Big Ten has been allotted 88 total spots for the NCAA tournament but may only send a certain number of wrestlers per weight class. Ultimately, the Big Ten tournament will determine who qualifies for the NCAA tournament.

Junior Isaiah Salazar headlines the Gophers’ individual matchups, as the No. 3 pre-seed in the 184-pound weight division. He will have a great chance to make some noise this weekend; he finished the regular season with a 12-1 dual record, going a perfect 7-0 in Big Ten play.

Graduate student Bailee O’Reilly is seeded at No. 4 in the 174-pound field, redshirt senior Patrick McKee is fifth in the 125-pound and graduate student Jake Bergeland will look to build off last season’s third-place finish as the fifth seed at 141 pounds.

Aaron Nagao, Michael Blockhus, Andrew Sparks, Michial Foy, Brayton Lee and Garrett Joles will round out the Gophers competing this weekend.

Despite the pre-seeds, Eggum said wrestlers still need to put on their best performance this weekend.

“There’s no guarantees, they still have to go out and wrestle and compete at the Big Ten Championships and do their job,” Eggum said. “At the end of the day, some of those guys are qualified a spot, and if they didn’t have the best tournament, they’re more than likely going to get the wild card.”

Eggum said he’s focused on trying to prepare his team mentally and physically, with a mix of off days, lifting sessions and shorter practices. Eggum said he is confident about the tournament and, at this point, they’re feeling more excitement than nerves. 

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