An undefeated record under a new head coach. A potential number one ranking. Unrivaled clout going into postseason tournaments. A lot was riding on this Friday's wrestling meet in State College, PA.
After last week’s dramatic 19-17 upset win over No. 2 Ohio State, the Wolverines, moving up to a No. 4 ranking, seemed unstoppable — a force to challenge the best in college wrestling. But the Wolverines had yet to face No. 1 Penn State.
The No. 4 Michigan wrestling team (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) lost to No. 1 Penn State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten), 25-11, dropping its first meet of the season. The Wolverines lead the team score after five matches but dropped the subsequent five.
To start the match on a high note at 125 pounds, sophomore Drew Mattin outmaneuvered his opponent, building up riding time and winning the match, 6-0, for Michigan. Redshirt junior Stevan Micic, ranked first in the country at 133 pounds, also added to the success, trouncing the Nittany Lions’ Scott Stossel, 20-5, in a technical fall. The bonus points from Micic’s win, as well as fifth-year senior Malik Amine’s 7-5 win in the 149-pound division, gave the Wolverines an 11-3 lead to start the match, an impressive margin considering Penn State’s prowess in rankings.
Despite the early lead, though, redshirt juniors Logan Massa and Myles Amine both dropped close matches to No. 1 wrestlers in the 165 and 174-pound weight classes, respectively. While the losses set Michigan back in the team score, the momentum from Massa’s overtime matchup against the Nittany Lions’ No. 1 ranked Vincenzo Joseph, gave the Wolverines strong momentum.
“It was really a razor-thin margin in that dual meet despite the score,” said Michigan head coach Sean Bormet. “We recognize that Penn State has an excellent team and we knew that we were going to be wrestling in front of a sell-out crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center, and our guys were excited to push forward.”
Trailing 11-12 after seven matches, Michigan did just that. Stepping to the mat after seven weeks off with an undisclosed industry, redshirt freshman Jelani Embree battled with the Nittany Lions’ Shakur Rasheed, ranked seventh, in the 184-pound division. Though he ended up losing the match 5-3, Bormet pointed to Jelani’s tough performance against a strong competitor as a testament to the team’s grit in their first loss of the season.
“I don’t think it will affect their morale,” Bormet said. “They expected to win those matches, and there were opportunities we had to win those matches.”
In some matches, Michigan left those opportunities unused. Penn State secured a victory when top-ranked Bo Nickal pinned redshirt junior Jackson Striggow at 197 pounds. Already dominant with fast offense and multiple near pins, Nickal forced Striggow's shoulders to the mat, earning six team points and a fall. Penn State continued the dominance to the end, finishing the meet with a 19-8 major decision win over freshman heavyweight Mason Parris, a breakout star since his debut Jan. 3.
Despite landslide losses to end the meet, the Wolverines see the loss as a strong effort to build on going into the postseason.
“We’ve gotta continue to dig a little deeper and press forward,” Bormet said. “We’ve got six weeks to improve and get where we want to be in March.”