Inconsistency at the lower weight classes has been an issue for the No. 6 Michigan wrestling team all season. This weekend’s pair of dual meets at Cliff Keen Arena revealed why.
Michigan’s two lightest wrestlers pulled the Wolverines out of an early hole en route to a 24-12 victory over Purdue Friday night.
But against No. 4 Minnesota Saturday, 125-pounder Jason Lara and 133-pounder Chris Diehl couldn’t repeat their success.
“We just gave them way too much respect,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We’re struggling at 125 and 133 because we have kids that are lacking in confidence and aren’t ready to go out there and fight.”
Lara and Diehl suffered early pins and Michigan couldn’t recover. Despite eventually closing a 15-point deficit to three, Michigan fell to the Golden Gophers, 24-15.
In the meet’s opening match, Minnesota’s No. 1 nationally ranked 125-pounder Jayson Ness took just 1:13 to pin Lara. At 133, Michigan faced a similar fate against another highly ranked opponent. No. 2 Mack Reiter stacked up Deihl and pinned him at the 1:26 mark of the first period.
The two falls gave Minnesota a 12-0 lead that they didn’t relinquish.
The Wolverines were shut out until eighth-ranked Josh Churella turned in the Wolverines’ strongest performance of the day at 149 pounds.
Churella recorded two takedowns and six back points before finally pinning his opponent in the second period. The fifth-year senior captain recorded more than four minutes of riding time in the 4:13 match.
“I was trying to get our team back on track after we fell down pretty hard in the first two weights,” Churella said.
Churella’s win did just that, spurring Michigan’s best rally of the day. All Americans Eric Tennenbaun, Steve Luke and Tyrel Todd each earned decisions. Michigan trailed by only three points with just two matches remaining.
But the Wolverines’ momentum wasn’t enough to carry them to victory.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Selley appeared outmatched filling in for classmate Anthony Biondo at 197 pounds and at heavyweight, redshirt freshman Matt Guhn was unable to secure the pin needed to tie the dual.
“We have some guys who are not wrestling with great intensity,” McFarland said.
“Maybe they just don’t understand what intensity is, but it’s hurting us in some of these dual meets.”
Michigan’s inability to complete the comeback was even more disappointing because the Wolverines had rallied from a similar deficit the night before against Purdue.
Against the Boilermakers, Michigan found itself facing a 9-0 deficit after 14th-ranked Biondo was forced to retire with a hyperextended elbow and Guhn lost a close heavyweight match.
But Michael Watts turned the tables against Purdue in the 125-pound match. The junior outlasted his opponent to score a 2-0 decision and start a Wolverine rally. At 133 pounds, Diehl scored three takedowns and accumulated more than two minutes of riding time in a solid decision.
The back-to-back victories were especially encouraging because Watts and Diehl came into the dual with a combined 19-25 record for the season.
“We needed those wins,” McFarland said. “I knew 125 and 133 were critical matches for us because we needed to get back into it.”
Following Diehl’s win, the Wolverines overwhelmed Purdue in the middle weights. Michigan won five of the meet’s final six matches.
With such dominance at 165, 174 and 184 pounds, Michigan doesn’t need dominance from its lightest wrestlers. What the Wolverines need is consistency.