It was an electrifying start of the 2017-18 dual season for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers as they defeated Air Force 29-6 on Sunday afternoon at Maturi Pavilion.
Minnesota wrestlers ripped off five straight victories between 149 and 184, but No. 6 Mitch McKee highlighted the afternoon with a pin at 133 at 2:26 to put the Gophers up 9-0 just two matches into the dual.
"We had guys wrestle with phenomenal pace today," head coach Brandon Eggum said after the dual. "Hunter Marko, Chris Pfarr and Nick Wanzek all did awesome jobs at wrestling the way we wanted them to wrestle. We obviously had some other phenomenal performances like McKee's fall, but those guys stood out to me today."
Between Marko, Pfarr and Wanzek, the three outscored their opponents 32-8, and recorded takedown after takedown in their matches that were all either decisions or major decisions. Marko, in his dual debut, ripped off 16 points before the last horn rang.
"I felt like I wrestled pretty well today," Marko said after the Gophers victory. "I was happy with the outcome today, but I know there are many other areas I can continue to improve on and grow as a wrestler. I just wanted to continue to move forward and take the match as it came to me. Scoring a lot of points is always my goal, and have fun and just love the fight."
Ethan Lizak returned to the Maturi Pavilion for the first time since he finished as the runner-up at the NCAA Championships in 2017 and he did not disappoint. Lizak struck first, and did not allow a takedown in the match to earn the 6-2 decision over Tony DeCesare and put Minnesota up after the opening match of the day.
McKee increased his early season total to six pins with his victory against Justin Becci at 133. McKee recorded three pins at the Daktronics last week, and increased that number to four at 2:26 of his match. McKee was the aggressor in the opening round, scoring first and then adding a four-point near fall in the first before securing the pin and giving the Gophers the 9-0 lead after two matches.
After victories from No. 9 Jake Short, No. 10 Nick Wanzek and senior Chirs Pfarr, Owen Webster took the mat at Maturi for the first time in his Gopher career.
"It feels great, it was awesome tonight," Webster said after his debut. "I scored in the first period, and was able to ride him out pretty well. The atmosphere was great, and I had a ton of fun today. I can't wait to continue to improve this year."
Webster used a takedown in the first to obtain a 2-0 lead, and then forced two stall warnings to increase his lead to 3-0 after the first period. Webster escaped quickly in the second, and added a riding time point to win by a decision, 5-0.
"It was awesome. I know it was a long time ago, but I remember coming out of this tunnel for the first time and feeling that, so I'm sure that added a lot for Owen tonight," Eggum said of the transfer from Augsburg. "He has always dreamed of being a Gopher, so it was a big deal for someone like him, born from Minnesota, raised here. I thought he did great tonight, he has some great skills, and it was great to just see him go out and compete and get a win."
Rylee Streifel was able to pick up his first career dual victory with a 2-1 decision at heavyweight. Streifel's two points came on a takedown with under 30 seconds in the first period, and the sophomore was able to defend his way to the victory.
Minnesota will make their second trip to Brookings, S.D. on Friday, Nov. 12 to take on the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State at 1:00 p.m. Minnesota won a close match last season against the Jackrabbits, with Michael Kroells dramatic disqualification victory over Alex Macki. USA Today/NWCA Coaches currently rank the Jackrabbits No. 16, while Minnesota sits at No. 6 as of Oct. 31.
"Confidence is the big thing. Momentum is important as well, it is hard to stop a team moving in that positive direction," Eggum said. "We have a couple of big duals next week, so we are excited to have some good results to build on."
125: No. 5 Ethan Lizak dec Tony DeCesare, 6-2 | Minn 3 -- AF 0
133: No. 6 Mitch McKee fall (2:26) Justin Becci | Minn 9 -- AF 0
141: Alec Opsal dec Gannon Volk, 4-0 | Minn 9 -- AF 3
149: Hunter Marko maj dec Tommy Stager, 16-2 | Minn 13 -- AF 3
157: No. 9 Jake Short dec Dane Robbins, 3-2 | Minn 16 -- AF 3
165: No. 10 Nick Wanzek maj dec Alex Lopouchanski, 12-3 | Minn 20 -- AF 3
174: Chris Pfarr dec Michael Billingsley, 7-3 | Minn 23 -- AF 3
184: Owen Webster dec Zen Ikehara, 5-0 | Minn 26 -- AF 3
197: Anthony McLaughlin dec Bobby Steveson, 7-4 | Minn 26 -- AF 6
285: Rylee Streifel dec Matt Wagner, 2-1 | Minn 29 -- AF 6