As the No. 5 Michigan wrestling team opened its dual-meet season against Campbell on Friday, the scene was set. The lights were bright, the mat was glistening, and as the first wrestlers stepped up to the mat, the intensity was palpable.
But that scene normally happens in an arena of some kind. Maybe one in Ann Arbor, maybe one in Buies Creek, maybe one at a neutral site. It normally doesn’t occur in a military hangar though, with large aircraft overlooking the mat in honor of Veterans’ Day. No matter the location, in the end, Michigan (1-0 overall) prevailed, 26-6, to beat the Camels (0-1).
“The setup was great,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “It’s one of those kinds of dual-meets, memories that’ll last a lifetime.”
The atmosphere set up this duel for drama, and the first bout didn’t disappoint.
At 125 lbs redshirt junior Kurt McHenry made his varsity dual debut — one of four Wolverine wrestlers to do so that night — against No. 24 Anthony Molton. Down 3-2 with six seconds left, McHenry reached out to Molton and completed a low single as time ran out. He escaped with a 4-3 win, putting Michigan on the board first. Following McHenry, at 133 lbs the Wolverines’ fifth-ranked redshirt sophomore Dylan Ragusin fought off a late surge from the Camels’ Domenic Zaccone to win 9-7. After two close wins, Michigan was up 6-0.
While it hadn’t lost a bout yet, both were close against unranked opponents. With the first ranked match up ensuing between No. 14 redshirt junior Cole Mattin, at 141 lbs, and Campbell’s No. 21 Shannon Hanna, the energy in the hangar was rising — but Mattin was unfazed.
“I’m always prepared to have a war with whoever I step out on the mat with,” Mattin said. “The first few matches being as close as they were just kind of adds a greater atmosphere to the whole thing.”
Mattin won 9-0 by major decision, accruing over three minutes of riding time and securing a bonus point. He dominated on his way to his third straight ranked win — one of the many bright spots for the Wolverines on a successful night.
At 149 lbs No. 22 redshirt freshman Chance Lamer followed Mattin, another wrestler making his varsity dual debut. But, the most interesting thing that happened during Lamer’s bout had nothing to do with wrestling. As the third period was nearing its end, the match had to be stopped due to a rain delay — something unheard of in wrestling. Because the hangar doors were left open, a rainstorm forced a delay while a large military plane was moved and the hangar doors were closed. Military personnel had to wipe off the mat for wrestling to continue.
Despite the rain, the Wolverines were unperturbed. Lamer would get the win once his match resumed, and at 157 lbs No. 3 redshirt senior Will Lewan followed with a win of his own. Despite 165 lb redshirt freshman Zach Mattin losing his dual debut, Michigan went into the last four weight classes up 16-3.
Heavyweight No. 3 fifth-year Mason Parris and 184 lb No. 14 graduate student Matt Finesilver won both of their ranked matchups as the Wolverines cruised to a 26-6 victory. While Parris, Finsilver and Cole all won their ranked matchups, the success of Michigan’s season will depend on its new wrestlers.
“Many people believed we fell off from last year, but I believe this team has as much talent and confidence as last year,” Cole said. “Our goal is to just keep building and building and hopefully build to a national title at the end of the year.”
Bormet echoed the same sentiment when discussing the wrestlers that made their debuts on Friday.
“We have a ton of confidence in our guys, in the depth we have,” Bormet said. “We got some weeks where, you know, it’s really competitive. You know, it might take us a little time to get the lineup ironed out.”
There are four top 15 ranked teams on Michigan’s schedule. While its depth helped win at Fort Bragg, the rest of its season will serve as a great litmus test for that attribute.