In mid-January, Michigan”s 133-pounder Foley Dowd was asked what he thought about the upcoming weekend.
“It all comes down to what is going on in March,” Dowd said. “Rankings go up and down. To me every match is preseason until the tournaments.”
The season is about to begin.
On March 3, the Wolverines will join a Big Ten Tournament field that features 10 of the top 25 teams in the country, and 65 ranked wrestlers.
“In order for us to have a good Big Ten and a good NCAA, we”re going to have to have everybody in there winning matches,” coach Joe McFarland said. “And not just some of the guys we”re going to need everybody in there firing.”
125 pounds: Nine ranked wrestlers will be fighting for the crown. Iowa”s Jody Strittmatter was the favorite until he lost in double-overtime to Leroy Vega of Minnesota this weekend. Michigan”s A.J. Grant, ranked No. 4 in the nation, should qualify for nationals but will face stiff competition in every match.
133 pounds: Iowa”s Eric Juergens, the defending national champion, emerged from the Big Ten season undefeated. This class could offer upsets from Dowd or Wisconsin”s Kevin Black. Both Dowd and Black are young wrestlers who have had up-and-down seasons but are capable of winning at any time.
141 pounds: Doug Schwab of Iowa enters the Tournament undefeated, but survived many close bouts to get there. Schwab will be challenged by Minnesota”s Chad Erikson, Ohio State”s Robert Sessley and Michigan”s Clark Forward.
149 pounds: Adam Tirapelle of Illinois is the favorite in this class, having amassed a 23-1 record and the No. 2 ranking in the nation. Michigan”s Mike Kulczycki will need to avenge Big Ten losses to wrestlers from Iowa and Ohio State in a crucial weight class for the Tournament.
157 pounds: Iowa”s T.J. Williams is undefeated and Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois should vie for second. Though Michigan”s Pat Owen has been wrestling well in the month of February, he will be the only unranked Wolverine in the tournament.
165 pounds: Wisconsin”s Donny Pritzlaff, the defending national champion, is undefeated in the Big Ten. At 174 pounds last season, Michigan”s Charles Martelli had a fantastic Big Ten Tournament, finishing sixth and qualifying for nationals. Look for him to move up from his seed again this season.
174 pounds: The health of Michigan”s Otto Olson improves every day after knee and shoulder problems that means trouble for everyone else. Iowa and Minnesota will fight for second in another weight class that could determine the tournament”s outcome.
184 pounds: This weight class boasts five wrestlers ranked in the top ten. Illinois will need Nate Patrick to continue his success, as he will probably enter as the top seed. Andy Hrovat of Michigan lost close matches to Indiana”s Victor Sveda and Minnesota”s Damion Hahn, but has been wrestling well lately.
197 pounds: Owen Elzen will be the only Minnesota wrestler with a No. 1 seed, but he will face stiff competition from Nick Preston of Ohio State and Nik Fekete of Michigan State. Michigan”s Joe DeGain, ranked 16th, should qualify for the NCAAs, but will need to pull off a few upsets to make the finals.
Heavyweight: This is the most competitive weight class in the tournament. Ohio State”s Tommy Rowlands is ranked No. 1, but Minnesota”s Garrett Lowney is undefeated. Both will have to hold off Matt Brink of Michigan and Josh Lockhart of Illinois. All four wrestlers are ranked in the top five in the nation and are strong candidates for All-American recognition.