Michigan starts conference play strong against Michigan State
When the season began, the No. 10 Michigan wrestling team hoped it would be in the national title picture by this point in the year.
But after a loss to then-No. 14 Oklahoma and a seventh-place finish at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, the Wolverines were looking to get back into the win column Thursday night against Michigan State.
The Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) won the match handily, winning at eight out of the 10 lineup spots for a 39-6 victory at Cliff Keen Arena.
Michigan coach Joe McFarland was pleased with his team’s performance, but he was also focused on his team’s learning process.
“We always want to try to do better, but tonight was pretty good,” McFarland said. “I like how the guys are thinking right now. All these experiences are going to help us down the road.”
The Wolverines found themselves down 6-5 after the first three rounds, with redshirt junior Conor Youtsey and redshirt sophomore George Fisher both dropping long, hard-fought matches.
Though Youtsey and Fisher weren’t able to win their matches, McFarland thought the two losses had the potential to help the team.
“It’s not just about going out and getting your hand raised,” McFarland said. “It’s about going out and extending yourself, learning how to execute and score points when you’re exhausted, because that’s where those championship matches are won.”
For a motivated Michigan team, the deficit didn’t last long.
In the next round, sophomore Alec Pantaleo continued to build upon his hot start to the season, winning his match by technical fall, 19-4, with multiple takedowns.
Pantaleo’s victory gave Michigan a lead it did not relinquish.
Murphy, in his return from an injury, won his match quickly, 14-2, with two near-falls and three takedowns.
“To be honest with you, we weren’t sure if he was going to wrestle tonight,” McFarland said. “We were going to leave it up to him. He still had some soreness in his hip earlier this week, but he said he felt ready to go.”
In the next round, Michigan’s victory became all but guaranteed when sophomore Garrett Sutton’s opponent defaulted due to injury, giving the Wolverines a 20-6 lead.
Two rounds later, junior Domenic Abounader registered the only pin of the match, before both Coon and fifth-year senior Max Huntley won by technical falls to end the match for the Wolverines’ first win in conference play.
As Michigan begins a stretch of conference matches, Coon offered his thoughts on his team’s performance up to this point.
“The team’s doing all right,” Coon said. “We’re not as competitive as we thought we would be. We thought we would be national championship contenders at this point. Now that this first semester is behind us, we’ve got to keep grinding and be that national championship team.”
Added McFarland: “We’ve gotta continue to work on our toughness and our grit, and you do that in these matches like we did tonight.”