MINNEAPOLIS -- Heading to 174 pounds during Saturday night's home opener, six matches into its dual against No. 20 South Dakota State and trailing by 14 points, a Gopher victory looked improbable. Even after three straight victories, the home team needed five points from the final contest to level the match and six to win. That's when the improbable comeback took an almost impossible turn, transforming what appeared to be a defeat into an unbelievable victory.
No. 5 Michael Kroells at minimum needed a technical fall over Alex Macki to give the Gophers a shot to win. As he worked to turn Macki to his back repeatedly during the match, he eventually drew a warning for stalling against Macki. Then he drew a second warning. Then a third. Then a fourth. Late in the match, a fifth warning on Macki for inactivity disqualified him from the match, earning the Gophers six points and completing the come-from-behind victory in the unlikeliest fashion.
"I was just thinking, score as many points as I could," said Kroells about his mentality heading into the dual-clinching bout. "When I knew I won, it was a great feeling. I haven't had that here at home where I got a win like that decided the dual. It was a pretty great feeling."
"Kroells was pumped up. He was looking for the big win. We've had some great [heavyweights] here and Kroells is doing a great job filling those big shoes," said head coach Brandon Eggum.
Kroells victory capped a run of four consecutive wins from Minnesota's upper-weights to erase its early deficit. That streak began with a ranked victory for No. 18 Nick Waznek, who scored the lone takedown of his match with No. 15 David Kocer to pull the 3-2 upset. That win gave the Gophers momentum heading to 184 pounds, where redshirt freshman Bobby Steveson won his career dual debut on the evening with a convincing 8-3 decision over Martin Mueller. No. 2 Brett Pfarr followed with a 7-0 decision over No. 5 Nate Rotert. In the past two seasons, Pfarr is 3-0 against Rotert by a combined margin of 34-0.
The need for that late run came after the Jackrabbits got the better of the Gophers in five of the night's first six matches. The bright spot in that tough start for the Gophers came at 141 pounds, where Gannon Volk looked strong in a 6-2 decision over fellow redshirt freshman Henry Pohlmeyer in Volk's dual match debut. Volk and Steveson, victors in their first-ever match before the Sports Pavilion crowd, were two of four Gophers who made their career dual debuts on Saturday night. At 133 pounds, true freshman Mitch McKee fell to No. 7 Seth Gross and at 149, James Berg lost to Alex Kocer.
While the Gophers found themselves in a hole at halftime and some may have wondered if the comeback was possible, Eggum had confidence the team could pull out a win on the strength of its heaviest wrestlers.
"It was tough at halftime. Going into the locker room, guys were quiet," said Eggum, but "we knew the upper-weights were capable of doing it and they did a good job. That's a tough thing to do when momentum is going the other way, but they stopped it and got it going in our direction."
Full match-by-match results are listed below.
Minnesota, now 1-0 on the young season, will stay at home over the Thanksgiving holiday to prepare for its next match, a home dual against top-ranked Oklahoma State next Sunday, Nov. 28, at 1 p.m. Central. Tickets for that match are currently available at MyGopherSports.com.
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125: Ben Gillette (SDSU) dec Skyler Petry (Minn), 8-1 | SDSU 3 - Minn - 0
133: No. 7 Seth Gross (SDSU) maj dec Mitch McKee (Minn). 12-3 | SDSU 7 - Minn 0
141: Gannon Volk (Minn) dec Henry Pohlmeyer (SDSU), 6-2 | SDSU 7 - Minn 3
149: Alex Kocer (SDSU) maj dec James Berg (Minn), 10-2 | SDSU 11 - Minn 3
157: Colin Holler (SDSU) dec No. 18 Jake Short (Minn), 6-4 | SDSU 14 - Minn 3
165: Luke Zilverberg (SDSU) dec Brandon Kingsley (Minn), 3-1 | SDSU 17 - Minn 3
174: No. 17 Nick Wanzek (Minn) dec No. 15 David Kocer (SDSU), 3-2 | SDSU 17 - Minn 6
184: Bobby Steveson (Minn) dec Martin Mueller (SDSU), 8-3 | SDSU 17 - Minn 9
197: No. 2 Brett Pfarr (Minn) dec No. 5 Nate Rotert (SDSU), 7-0 | SDSU 17 - Minn 12
285: No. 5 Michael Kroells (Minn) disqualified Alex Macki (SDSU) | SDSU 17 - Minn 18