The Michigan wrestling team went to Columbus for the National Dual Meet Championships upbeat. For the first time this season, it was able to boast its full lineup.
Mike Kulczycki and Ryan Bertin returned from injuries and performed well. A.J. Grant and Foley Dowd, Michigan’s most consistent wrestlers so far this season, also had solid weekends.
But the ninth-ranked Wolverines still finished a disappointing eighth place with a 27-13 loss to No. 10 Arizona State on Sunday.
On Saturday, the Wolverines went 2-2 in dual matches. They beat No. 20 Boise State and No. 15 Northern Iowa, but lost to No. 2 Iowa and No. 4 Cornell.
The team entered the tournament with high hopes for the weekend, but left frustrated.
“I really just don’t know if we’re better than this,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “In the past, we’ve had an in-your-face, aggressive style with well-conditioned athletes, but right now, it’s just not there. Too many guys looked tired in the third period.”
“We’re not happy with our performance this weekend,” Kulczycki said. “We’re really not satisfied at all. This week, we’re going to try to pick up the pace in practice and see if that makes a difference.”
Kulczycki was one of the bright spots this weekend, going 4-1. The fifth-year senior had been out with a knee injury since October and was also moving up in weight after wrestling at 149 pounds last year. He wrestled at 157 and 165 this weekend because McFarland has not yet decided where in the lineup Kulczycki will wrestle for the rest of the season.
“It felt good to be back competing,” Kulczycki said. “I felt pretty comfortable at 165. I was a lot faster than my opponents. I felt strong too, which was good.
“I’m not at 100 percent, but I won’t be at 100 percent all year.”
Bertin also had a good weekend in his return to action. Sidelined since the Cliff Keen Invitational Dec. 6-7 with a knee injury, Bertin, ranked No. 3 at 157 pounds, went 4-0.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Churella’s return from injury did not go as well. He faced top wrestlers all weekend, ending the weekend with a loss to No. 1 Eric Larkin of Arizona State. He finished the weekend 1-4, with the win against Northern Iowa’s Jon Garvin.
Oklahoma State finished first, beating Oklahoma to win the tournament. Big Ten rivals Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Michigan will begin its conference schedule Friday when it faces No. 6 Illinois in Champaign. Currently, there are eight Big Ten teams in the top 25, so Michigan will need to be more consistent to do well during the rest of the year.
“This is the most important part of the season,” Kulczycki said. “The conference season determines the seedings for the Big Tens and the Nationals. We’re going to be wrestling the same guys again and again probably. We’re not happy with how we’ve done so far, but there’s a lot of time left in the season.”