By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 15, 2013
In the midst of his first round of final exams in Ann Arbor, freshman wrestler Domenic Abounader received another daunting assignment.
With junior and team captain Max Huntley suddenly out for the season with a torn pectoral tendon, the 18-year old was scheduled to make his varsity debut and fill in some rather large shoes.
Abounader proved to be up to the task Sunday, as he used an early takedown to gain momentum before pinning his opponent midway through the second round.
The pin was just a piece of the puzzle in No. 19 Michigan’s 30-9 rout of Central Michigan. After boasting identical lineups in their first four matches, the injury-plagued Wolverines (3-2) saw two new faces and a triumphant return to action against the Chippewas (5-4).
“Over the past couple years we’ve developed a lot of depth on our team,” said Michigan assistant coach Sean Bormet. “We’re dealing with a few injuries right now, so we’re very fortunate to have that depth and I thought it really showed today.”
Michigan had all but secured a win before Abounader’s bout, yet the victory felt even better after waiting months to wrestle again, coming off knee-surgery in the fall.
“It was hard,” Abounader said. “Not being on the mat sucked, but today I felt ready and just went out there and wrestled.”
The excitement of a fortunate debut was coupled with disappointing misfortune, though.
After an offseason of long training and hard work, it appeared Huntley had turned the corner toward greatness. He was named team captain for the season and posted a 3-1 record through four matches until he tore a tendon in his chest, forcing a surgery that will leave him on the sideline for the remainder of the year.
“We’re very devastated for Max,” Bormet said. “Max has risen here at Michigan and become a great leader, so he’s taken it in stride and trying to have an impact on this team and he’s doing a great job at that so far.”
Added Abounader: “I love Max, and he’s been a great role model for me and continued to talk with me throughout the week telling me, ‘you’re athletic, you’re ready, no one can hang with you’ and continued to be a leader on the team and motivate me despite the injury.“
In addition to Abounader, junior Collin Zeerip made his season debut for Michigan. Battling No. 11 Mike Ottinger, Zeerip hung with the veteran before a couple late takedowns resulted in a 7-3 defeat.
Starting the season 0-4 in dual meets and watching weight class counterpart and true freshman Brian Murphy succeed in last weekend’s Cliff Keen Invitational, it appeared junior Jake Salazar’s time in the starting lineup was up. But a late scratch due to a Murphy injury gave Salazar a second chance, one he didn’t put to waste in a 4-2 overtime victory.
Murphy, who had his redshirt pulled just last weekend, is suffering from an unspecified injury.
“That was a huge win that gave us a lot of momentum for the rest of the match,” Bormet said.
After his impressive performance, Abounader could see more time in the lineup, especially after the injury to Huntley. Along with Murphy, Abounder could join freshman sensation Adam Coon as true freshman in the lineup.
After initially intending to redshirt all ten members of the nation’s top-ranked freshman class, the talent proved to be undeniable. The trio is now a combined 23-2 in exhibition and varsity matches on the year.
“The freshmen train really hard,” Bormet said. “Their mentality and the way they approach their training is valuable for the entire team. They love to compete, work hard, and expect to win, and that’s shown so far on the mat and is a big positive for us moving forward.”
With such a strong group, Abounader is honored just be included in the class, let alone headline it.
“Seeing the success they had last weekend was awesome. Our class is really close, and I love being around them. This team’s done a great job building our confidence by letting us know that we’re freshmen, but also varsity wrestlers in the Big Ten so it’s time to go out and compete like it.”
The three will have a chance to do build experience together next weekend at the Midlands Championship in Chicago. Facing their toughest competition of the season, Bormet wasn’t sure exactly what the lineup would look like. But based on Sunday’s performance, it appears Michigan will be ready no matter who’s on the mat.