ST. LOUIS ­­­— He pointed at the Michigan stitched into his singlet and let out a deep breath. As he waved to the crowd, one got the feeling that senior Ryan Bertin and the Michigan wrestling team had just removed a giant burden from their shoulders.

Michigan Wrestling
Senior Ryan Bertin claimed his second NCAA championship in three years the 157-pound weight class.

Since last year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships, when he failed in his bid to repeat as national champion, Bertin had been consumed with regaining his title. For that matter, the entire Wolverine team had been trying to remove the stigma of not being a tournament team.

But after the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Championships were complete, both Bertin and Michigan accomplished their goals. Bertin captured the national championship in the 157-pound weight class, and the Wolverines finished an impressive second place in the overall team competition. It was Michigan’s best finish since 1974.

In his championship match on Saturday night, No. 2-seeded Bertin faced off against No. 8-seeded Joe Johnston of Iowa. In the quarterfinals, Johnston scored a huge upset over the No. 1 seed, Alex Tirapelle of Illinois. Tirapelle had beaten Bertin in the Big Ten Championships two weeks earlier.

Bertin did not allow Johnston to get comfortable, capitalizing on a deep shot at the beginning of the first period. But Bertin was unable to keep the Iowa junior down for long, and Johnston scored an escape soon thereafter.

The tide in the match turned at the end of the first period. It appeared as if Bertin was about to give up a takedown to Johnston and surrender his 2-1 lead. But instead Bertin grabbed hold of his opponent’s ankle and flipped him over his head to get a second takedown in the period.

“I just went with my instincts and got into a scramble,” Bertin said. “I came out on top, so it worked out.”

With that takedown, Bertin took a 4-1 lead in the match, and, from there, the match was never really in question. Johnston was never able to counter Bertin’s quick shots from the neutral position. The senior got all eight of his points through takedowns. The final score, 8-5, did not truly indicate how one-sided the match was.

“When I recruited him, one of Bertin’s high school coaches told me that he was a gamer,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “He’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats in Michigan wrestling history. He’s been focused all week, and that was his goal. I don’t think anyone could have beaten him this weekend.”

With the win, Bertin captured his second national championship in three years. His tournament last year was marred by injuries. This season, Bertin entered the tournament relatively healthy, and the rest of the field felt the effect of it.

“It’s easier to wrestle when you are healthy,” Bertin said. “In this tournament, (being healthy) is a great equalizer.”

The Wolverines clinched second place in the team competition of the tournament with Bertin’s win in the 157-pound final, and a total of 83 points. The second-place finish was the highest for Michigan since 1974. Oklahoma State ran away with the team title, scoring 153.5 points and capturing five individual titles.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” McFarland said. “Our young guys came here and were able to withstand the pressure. The guys on our team are really competitive, and we were focused on this tournament all year.”

The Wolverines had five All-Americans out of their 10 starters. Junior captain Ryan Churella finished fourth in the 165-pound weight class. Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State 6-2 defeated Churella in the semifinals on Friday. That loss forced Churella to face the defending 165-pound weight class champion, Troy Letters of Lehigh. In a tight match, Churella lost, 7-5.

“I didn’t wrestle like I wanted to, and it showed when I lost the match,” Churella said. “You’re never satisfied unless you win the national championship. I’ll remember what this felt like when I’m here next year, and I’ll be ready.”

Freshman Eric Tannenbaum had an impressive debut in the NCAA Championships, attaining All-American status in the 149-pound weight class. He made the semi-finals, before succumbing to Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito. He finished fourth overall.

The Wolverines’ other freshman in the tournament, Josh Churella, did not enjoy the same kind of success. Although the No. 3 seed was named an All-American, he finished a disappointing eighth. He battled a chest cold throughout the weekend, and it showed in his three losses, where his stamina was affected.

“I never take timeouts, and I took three,” Churella said. “Every match, I just got tired. I just didn’t have it this tournament.”

Rounding out the Wolverines’ All-Americans was junior heavyweight Greg Wagner, who improved on his sixth-place finish from a year ago with a fourth-place finish this year.

“If you had told me a week ago that we would finish second here, I would have told you that’s a stretch,” McFarland said. “But I’m real proud of these guys because they pulled it off.”


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