By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 21, 2013
At 7:20 p.m. on Friday night, things were as they should be for the Michigan men’s wrestling team.
A sold-out crowd at Cliff Keen Arena lit up as redshirt junior Eric Grajales put on a show on his way to defeating Iowa’s Brody Grothus in the 149-pound weight class. Fans sporting the block ‘M’ on their shirts high-fived, and Michigan wrestlers standing on the sidelines bumped fists. For a few minutes, it was all smiles for the Wolverine fans who packed the house to watch the meet. They got what they came to see – a victory for the men in maize and blue.
Seven minutes later, though, when the clock struck zero in the 149-pound dual and Grajales was proclaimed the winner by a score of 12-3, reality settled back in.
The cheering from the stands and encouraging words from Michigan’s bench subsided. Grajales won, but the Wolverines were down 13-4 in the team score and on the way to their worst loss of the season.
No. 18 Michigan (0-3 Big Ten, 6-4 overall) knew going into the meet that it faced a challenge against No. 4 Iowa (3-0, 13-1). But the Wolverines didn’t expect the 33-10 number in favor of Iowa the scoreboard showed at the end of the meet. Aside from Grajales, the only other victory for the Wolverines came from redshirt senior Ben Apland, who won by forfeit.
On a night that Michigan wants to forget, 11th-ranked Grajales proved to be the lone bright spot for a team that has been struggling since the calendar flipped to 2013. He got off to a great start, strong and aggressive. He scored points for a hip toss and nearside cradle, putting him up 7-0 before time ran out in the first period. A reversal in both the second and third periods helped him earn a major-decision margin with a total riding time of 2:17.
The win makes Grajales 3-0 in Big Ten competition this year with wins against Wisconsin and Nebraska earlier this month, bettering his chances of getting a good seed going into the Big Ten Tournament.
“Every single Big Ten match is going to be tough,” said Grajales. “It’s by far the best division in wrestling.”
If Grajales were to qualify, Michigan coach Joe McFarland sees no reason Grajales couldn’t compete with the best.
“Eric likes these big matches,” McFarland said. “He gets up for them. … He’s able to rise up and he’s wrestled really well. It’s good to see him off to a great start, it really is.”
As for the team as a whole, there is still room for improvement. Grajales, one of the veterans on a team that has seen 10 different wrestlers make their varsity debuts this year, thinks that the team still has time to figure out what it needs to tweak in order to get better.
“It’s very frustrating, especially those first two (Big Ten) matches (against Nebraska and Wisconsin),” Grajales said. “We were so close to winning it and we let it slip out of our grasp. But at the same time it shows what we need to do. … We see what we’re doing wrong and, more than anytime, this is the time to find out.”
Michigan will look to improve its performance and earn its first Big Ten win of the season as it takes on Northwestern next Sunday at home.