Sophomore heavyweight Mason Parris thrust his arms into the air, soaking in the rousing ovation from the Michigan wrestling faithful at Crisler Center on Sunday. The second-ranked player in his weight class, Parris jogged toward the bench, his exuberant teammates greeting him with high-fives and cheers, “Hail to the Victors” ringing in the background.
Parris just pinned down his opponent, Minnesota’s Garrett Joles, at the 3:55 mark and secured a victory at a crucial juncture in the dual meet. His six points broke a 12-12 tie, granting the Wolverines a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on their way to a 22-15 victory.
Parris’ pin, though, would have lacked in heroics had it not been for the yeoman’s work of teammates that wrestled before him. Redshirt sophomore Jelani Embree and redshirt senior Jackson Striggow helped turn the meet in Michigan’s favor, giving Parris’ theatrics substance in the context of the meet.
“We were at a critical point,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “184 and 197 pounds, those were big matches and we needed a win in order to win that dual. Jelani and Jackson … put Mason in position to get some bonus points for us.”
The Wolverines limped into the meet’s intermission, trailing 12-6. Against No. 11 Minnesota, mounting a comeback would be a tall order, even with Parris and redshirt freshman Joey Silva, both heavily favored, yet to wrestle.
Five matches remained after the break, and igniting a catch-up effort hinged on Embree.
“In the intermission, mostly I was just talking to (Embree),” Bormet said. “(He) needed to come out and get that momentum going back our way … it was just making sure he had his composure, that he was ready to go and focused on getting us started for those next five weights.”
It was reasonable to speculate how Embree would hold up physically against 15th-ranked Owen Webster. Embree defeated Webster 5-2 in early December at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, yet Sunday’s match was slated to be only his second since returning from a month-long absence due to injury. Embree was victorious in his first match back on Friday, but conditioning remained a concern.
Embree and Webster engaged in a low-scoring slugfest, each player struggling to gain much of an advantage. Then, with the score tied at one and the clock ticking down in the third period, Webster appeared to have registered a dramatic takedown at the buzzer. The officials went to the monitor to review the call and reversed the ruling, sending the match to overtime.
In overtime, Embree wasted little time making good on his second chance. Showing little signs of fatigue, he secured a swift takedown over Webster and an emphatic, meet-altering victory.
“In the moment, I’m just trying to stay calm,” Embree said of the review. “If the call was overturned, then that’s what happened. Thankfully, it worked out in my favor and I was able to take advantage of that second life I was given. … I think I was recharged a bit.”
Embree did his job. From there, the baton to continue Michigan’s sudden swing of momentum was passed to Striggow. If Striggow could top his opponent, Hunter Ritter, Parris would stride to the mat with the dual meet in a deadlock — a scenario that was sure to bode well for the Wolverines.
After the first period, Striggow and Ritter were scoreless. Striggow proceeded to kick his performance into second-gear, using a motor he labels as a forte. He registered two takedowns to seize control from Ritter in a strong, impassioned second period, making victory inevitable.
For Striggow, a Minnesota native, the win was personal.
“Playing Minnesota, it’s awesome,” Striggow said. “I grew up 15 miles from the University of Minnesota, so I was wrestling with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, because Michigan gave me a chance and Minnesota didn’t. So it’s always fun to beat them.”
At this point in the dual, the stage was set for Parris. Embree and Striggow did their jobs and wrestled Michigan out of a significant hole. Without their victories, Parris’ pin would have been a mere footnote in a disheartening dual meet loss.
Instead, it served as the exclamation mark.