Since Dec. 10 against Cleveland State, when sophomore Mark Moos decided to move up to the 133-pound weight class, the No. 8 Michigan wrestling team has been without a 125-pound wrestler.
At first, it appeared that this predicament had little effect on the performance of the Wolverines. Michigan was able to get around having just nine wrestlers in its lineup. Despite having to forfeit one match each meet, Michigan picked up easy victories over quality opponents like No. 11 Central Michigan, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 19 Penn State.
But reality set in two weeks ago at the NWCA Cliff Keen National Dual Tournament. The Wolverines lost dual meets to Minnesota and Oklahoma. In both meets, giving up a forfeit in the 125-pound weight class proved to be the difference in the final score.
“We try to forget about it and act like we are starting every meet at (the 133-pound weight class), instead of focusing on the fact that we didn’t have anyone at the 125-pound weight class,” junior co-captain Ryan Churella said.
Forfeiting the starting 125-pound weight class meant the Wolverines began every meet down 6-0. The only other way to receive six team points is via a pinfall, and, against good teams like No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 4 Minnesota, pins are hard to come by. The early deficit sometimes forced the other wrestlers on the team to wrestle a different style than they were accustomed to. Some felt it was necessary to make up for the forfeit by going exclusively for a pin. This strategy frequently backfired, when wrestlers fell behind going for difficult moves.
But the Wolverines finally had a complete set of wrestlers this past weekend when they beat both Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road. Sophomore Jim Shutich made his 2004-2005 debut in the varsity lineup at the 125-pound weight class. Shutich lost his first match, 5-3 to Wisconsin’s Collin Cudd and fell to Minnesota’s Bobby Lowe, 19-7 on Sunday. Despite the losses, his presence alone helped the Wolverines avoid starting with a six-point deficit.
But what took so long for Shutich to finally appear in the lineup? The answer lies in a simple misstep by Shutich and the coaching staff.
Over winter break, Shutich competed in an open tournament where he weighed in to wrestle in the 133-pound weight class. NCAA rules state that a wrestler can only lose 1.5 percent of his body weight per week. This meant that for Shutich to lose the eight pounds necessary to wrestle in the 125-pound weight class, he had to wait at least four weeks.
“(Shutich) didn’t realize that, even at an open tournament, NCAA rules still apply,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “It was just a mistake, and I wasn’t on top of that one like I should have been. I’m blaming myself for that one.”
Although last weekend was Shutich’s first varsity action this season, he did not come in without experience. Last season, as a true freshman, Shutich compiled a 13-8 record, while winning the Edinboro Open and placing fourth at the Eastern Michigan Open.
“Everyone is excited about getting a kid like him into the lineup,” McFarland said. “I like what I’m seeing in the (wrestling room). He’s going to give us a guy at a starting weight class that is going to go out there and wrestle hard.”
Even though Shutich has been unable to wrestle, it has not diminished what the coaching staff and the rest of the team expect out of him.
“Jim can qualify for the (NCAA tournament),” McFarland said. “Even though it’s a tough weight class, I know what Jim is capable of doing, and I guess time will tell. He is a great competitor. There’s no one who is going to put more pressure on himself than Jim will. He knows a lot of guys on this team are counting on him.”
The Wolverines feel that having a 125-pound wrestler in the lineup will give them the momentum needed to win close dual meets. Although they were forced to get used to wrestling a man down, it is not something that they want to make a habit.
“Just getting a 125-pound wrestler back in the lineup is going to be a huge thing for our team because (by) starting every dual at the 133-pound weight class, everyone is rushed,” Churella said. “Everyone is used to starting with a 125-pound wrestler, and getting Jim into the lineup will get things back to normal.”