By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 2, 2014
In a year that contained its second-worst NCAA finish in 30 years, it might have been hard for the Michigan wrestling team to see 2013 as anything more than a step back.
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But with just two days remaining in 2013, the Wolverines made their case to remember the year, laying a strong foundation for the upcoming year. Monday, No. 15 Michigan concluded the year by scoring 84 points to take third out of 29 Division I teams at the Midlands Championships in Evanston.
After finishing eighth in the same event last season, the Wolverines’ third-place showing bested five other ranked teams and trailed champion No. 3 Iowa (187.5) and runner-up No. 6 Edinboro (102.5). Facing its toughest competition of the season, Michigan rose to the occasion, sending five of its 10 scorers into the top eight in their weight class.
“As a team, we showed a lot of good things,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “It’s a tough tournament with a lot of good teams, but I thought we made a lot of improvements and it showed. Almost everyone met or exceeded their seeds, and we had a lot of excitement across the board.”
Freshman Adam Coon continued his unbeaten streak and defeated top-seed Bobby Telford of Iowa 3-2 in the heavyweight finals. A perfect 19-0 this year — the best start by a true freshman in program history — Coon is showing to the nation what his coaches have seen all along.
“He’s a special person,” McFarland said. “He really pours himself into everything he does, and is incredibly focused and driven. He’s earned all the success he’s seen so far and has made great strides since earlier in the year. In the finals, his desire to win showed when he got put in a couple tough spots but was able to come out on top.”
In addition to Coon, senior Eric Grajales found himself in the ring for the 141-pound final, but despite his best efforts and an early lead, Grajales fell to Lehigh’s Mitch Minotti in overtime.
“That was a really tough loss for Eric,” McFarland said. “He showed a lot of great things all tournament, but it just didn’t come together in the finals. But he’s really come on strong as of late and made a ton of progress, so hopefully the loss shows him that he’s a long way from where he wants to be and keeps him hungry moving forward.”
The remainder of Michigan’s points came from senior Sean Boyle, who went 5-2 to take fifth, as well as freshman Conor Youtsey and sophomore Rossi Bruno. Youtsey and Bruno scored a pair of eighth-place finishes and improved to 9-6 and 11-7 on the season, respectively.
The Wolverines were able to give experience to a young, though unable to score any points. Sophomore Taylor Massa, suffered his first loss of the year after he went 5-1 to take third in the 165-pound weight class to move to 18-1 on the year. Choosing to take a redshirt to further develop physically, Massa is only eligible to compete in tournaments if he participates unattached from Michigan, so his finish does not count toward Michigan’s finish
“This year is about him,” McFarland said. “He’s taking the year off so he can personally develop. He’s still working hard and doing all the right things in practice, and he competed well. He’s got some things he still needs to work on, but right now he’s done a nice job of putting himself in position to win championships in the next three years.”
For Michigan, the Midlands Championships also served as a midpoint mark to the season. While the first half included plenty of success, the Wolverines know the new year will bring bigger challenges. With ten teams ranked in the Top 25, the Big Ten season will provide Michigan little margin for error.
“We still aren’t where we want to be,” McFarland said. “Our goal is to be up at the top with the best in the country, and that goal is still very much a work in progress. We’ve got a couple guys coming back from injury soon and could be even better, so hopefully this tournament can bring some positive energy to the program and reinforce the commitment and work we’ve put in so far.
“It’s nice to have confirmations like these, but we need to keep focused so our success can come at bigger stages.”