Eric Grajales, a redshirt junior who was tasked with closing out Michigan’s second wrestling dual meet in three days, saw his opponent take a step back and his confidence disappear. Just then, he knew the match was over.
“In wrestling, if someone decides to stop coming after you, and starts waiting for you, they’re almost throwing in the towel,” Grajales said.
Sunday, Grajales exhibited the kind of mental toughness that Michigan (2-4 Big Ten, 8-5 overall) has been missing as a part of its campaign in the Big Ten this year. After back-to-back wins against Northwestern and Indiana, the Wolverines appeared ready to return home with a pair of wins, but Sunday’s defeat at Purdue is another reminder that this team is far from consistent.
A pair of late, lopsided losses marred what looked to be a victory in West Lafayette for Michigan.
Grajales, the No. 12 wrestler in the nation, defeated his 13th-ranked opponent in what assistant coach Donny Pritzlaff highlighted as one of the most impressive moments of the road trip.
“He’s been doing things right,” Pritzlaff said.
The rest of the team could learn from Grajales. Pritzlaff said that he felt practice went well all week, but that the team needed to adjust how it approached the moments before the game.
“We need to do a better job of getting our mindset in that wrestling mode where we’re going out there to attack and be aggressive,” Pritzlaff said.
Grajales attributed this lack of mental toughness to the team’s youth.
“We have a lot of young guys on our team that … not necessarily get scared, but, you know, maybe get worried too much or think too much rather than just going out there and wrestling,” he said.
Pritzlaff viewed Michigan’s struggles differently.
“I think it’s because our guys aren’t doing a good job of it,” he said, “As a program, we’re not doing a good job of being fired up to get out there and compete. That’s something everyone needs to work on.”
Whether this means a different pregame routine or just a higher level of focus from the entire team, the Wolverines don’t have much time to figure out their issues. Only two conference dual meets remain on the schedule, but Michigan does get to return home to attempt to turn things around.
The team’s next competition will be no cakewalk, as No. 5 Ohio State (4-2, 10-2) comes to Cliff Keen Arena on Friday. Pritzlaff said that the meet will be a good test and that the Wolverines shouldn’t have problems getting mentally prepared for their archrivals.
Grajales explained that his aggressive mindset allows him to come out strong every match. The Wolverines will need everyone to get on board with that train of thought when the Buckeyes visit Ann Arbor this week.