Wrestling flexes muscles as Big Ten schedule looms

By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 6, 2014

In its final tune-up before a daunting Big Ten season, the Michigan wrestling team may have put on its best performance of the season.

Following the act of freshman sensation Adam Coon, the 16th-ranked Wolverines won seven of 10 matches and led by as many as 25 en route to a 28-10 victory over No. 15 Maryland.

“I was happy with our performance,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “We set the pace and took control in a lot of those matches. We're wrestling a lot better now. I thought we wrestled pretty well at (the Midlands Championship), and we looked good coming off of that.”

The good looks started early. Normally the last wrestler on the mat, Coon was set to go first due to the random draw before the match. The leadoff position and tie score added intensity, but Coon was able to knock off Maryland’s Spencer Myer, 4-1, to improve to 20-0 on the season.

Thanks in part to Coon’s spark, Michigan won seven of its first eight matches by a combined score of 70-16 to take a 28-3 match lead. With several Wolverines scoring in the teens and sophomore Rossi Bruno winning by a score of 22-7, McFarland finally saw the results of practices dedicated to controlling matches.

“That's a big part of wrestling,” McFarland said. “Having confidence in yourself to keep attacking, keep chipping away at the other guy, try to overwhelm him and wear him out. Some of our guys are doing a nice job with that now.”

Among those attacking early and often was fifth-year senior Dan Yates. After taking several weeks off to return to full strength, Yates made sure his return was a triumphant one. Just over a minute into his match in the 165-pound weight class, he used a crafty head scoop to pin Maryland’s Josh Snook, drawing by far the loudest cheers of the afternoon.

“It felt good to get back out there and win,” Yates said. “The coaches and I have been setting things up so I can stay healthy and focus on the end of the year. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out today, but it felt good once I got loose.”

Yates’s pin was the highlight of the afternoon for the Wolverines, but the victory showcased what a good winter break can accomplish. The team dispersed to their respective hometowns for the holidays and practiced on their own, putting their dedication and motivation to the test. After an impressive third-place finish at the Midlands Championships in Chicago on Dec. 30 and the win over Maryland, McFarland feels this year’s Michigan squad passed with flying colors.

“They all came back looking pretty good,” he said. “We seemed to come back refreshed. We had a couple workouts before leaving for Midlands, and I thought we wrestled pretty well out there. We're building off that tournament, and I think our guys are really locked in mentally right now. We just need to continue moving down that path."

Despite the improved work ethic, Michigan knows that the competition is only going to get tougher. Boasting ten teams ranked in the top 25, the Big Ten is by far the biggest stage in college wrestling where even elite teams often struggle.

But Michigan hopes to propel its strong winter break and an even stronger non-conference finale into avenging a sixth-place Big Ten finish in 2013. Yates knows it won’t be easy, but the senior has seen similar situations before and feels his team just might have what it takes.

“This team is much closer than any team I’ve been with before, and that’s helped our morale stay high and us push each other,” Yates said. “In the past, a lot of guys seem to have a drop in mentality and motivation, but this year, everybody seems to be rising to the challenges the coaches set. Now, when we have a hard workout, everyone’s ready to go instead of hanging their heads or moping. This team’s ready for the challenge and ready to get better.”