- Adam Glanzman/Daily
BY LIZ NAGLE
Daily Sports Writer
Published June 6, 2012
The Michigan wrestling team earned an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in March with two-time national champion Kellen Russell and All-American Zac Stevens on its side.
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But with the graduation of three seniors — Russell, Stevens and Justin Zeerip — Michigan coach Joe McFarland seems to be shorthanded in the upcoming season.
Though the Wolverine trio will be hard to replace, McFarland has recruited six top wrestlers — Rossi Bruno, Jordan Thomas, Taylor Massa, Angelo Latora, Conor Youtsey and Cory Lester — and Michigan's freshman class is ranked No. 7 nationally by InterMat Wrestling.
“We are very excited about having these six guys join our program,” McFarland said. “We have a well-balanced class as far as filling some of our weight needs, and I really like the attitude, work ethic and approach that each of these guys brings.”
As the No. 13 overall recruit, Bruno brings a long list of experience in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, and is predicted to compete at 133 pounds at the collegiate level. He logged a 289-3 record en route to a first-ever-five-time state champion title in Florida, including undefeated seasons as an eighth grader, sophomore and senior.
“I really think his folkstyle wrestling is as good, if not better, than his freestyle and Greco,” McFarland said. “He’s good in all three positions. He rides really tough on top, which is a great neutralizer in college, and he’s good on his feet and on bottom. With him, we’re getting a solid, all-around wrestler.”
After their fathers wrestled alongside McFarland in the early 1980s, Lester and Latora found their place at Michigan. The two combined for a strong 396-31 record and eight state level honors in their prep careers.
Massa was the top 170-pound pick, finishing his high school career with a 223-0 record. He claimed a pair of Junior National Champion crowns through the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) and wrestled for the 2011 FILA Junior Freestyle World Team.
With a combined 17 state titles, the rookie grapplers bring promise to the already well-established team. The four returning wrestlers — 165-pound redshirt junior Dan Yates, fifth year senior heavyweight Ben Apland, 149-pound redshirt junior Eric Grajales and 197-pound redshirt sophomore Max Huntley — remained ranked throughout last year and look to continue defending Michigan mats.
The Big Ten has seen a long history of top-tier wrestling programs, claiming seven of 10 weight-class crowns at the NCAA Championships last season. Iowa and Nebraska take the No. 1 and No. 6 ranked incoming classes, and are the only two Big Ten teams above Michigan.
REPLACING RUSSELL: The two-time national champion will be missed on Michigan mats. Russell was the most reliable wrestler in the lineup last season, and headlined the Wolverines’ 11th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Russell posted exceptional numbers throughout his career, including four Big Ten titles, a near-perfect 71-1 record in his last two seasons and an avenged loss to Ohio State’s then-freshman Hunter Stieber.
He finished with a 134-12 record, ranking him eighth amongst the Michigan wrestlers — his .918 win percentage stands as the second highest in Wolverine history.
He also captured the national crown in his senior season against Iowa’s Montell Marion in sudden victory. Shortly after, Russell earned the freestyle wildcard bid to the U.S. Wrestling Olympic Team Trials.
“It’s kind of a new chapter I’m starting in my wrestling career,” Russell said after concluding his stint as a Wolverine. “But it’s definitely going to be much different than my last five years.”
At the Olympic Trials, Russell won his first match against Derek Moore at 60 kg — 0-1, 2-1, 5-3 — but he fell in the first two periods of the quarterfinals to former Hawkeye and 2008 Olympian Mike Zadick.
Even after Russell’s collegiate career came to a close, the Detroit Athletic Club named him the 2012 Michigan College Athlete of the Year. He also collected the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic honors alongside Zeerip.
“The NWCA All-Academic Team and Individual Team is one of the best acknowledgements that we can give to our coaches and athletes at the end of a physically grueling season,” NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer said.