If you were looking for the Sparknotes version of the Michigan wrestling team’s dual-meet season, this past weekend was it.
Highlighting the past few days was captain Eric Tannenbaum’s 100th and 101st career victories.
Underscoring the 48 hours was the team’s ninth and 10th loss of the 2006-07 campaign.
And the theme was frustration.
“It’s been a real frustrating year for me, a real long year,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said.
The dual-meet season concluded for the 23rd-ranked Wolverines Sunday night with a 20-14 loss to No. 14 Northwestern in Evanston. Michigan lost despite holding a 14-5 lead at one point. The four consecutive Wolverine victories at the middleweights, including two major decisions from No. 3 Josh Churella and No. 2 Eric Tannenbaum, were not enough, and the team’s lack of depth hindered its ability to pull out a victory once again.
“We’re close but we just needed one more win,” McFarland said. “That was the difference. It’s just frustrating.”
Friday night’s loss to No. 11 Penn State (21-16) at Cliff Keen Arena was very similar. The meet came down to the last pair of wrestlers, with Michigan yet again finding itself on the short end.
After Tannenbaum reached the century mark for wins in his career and Tyrel Todd had an electrifying six-point fall in the evening’s second-to-last match, the closing loss left a bitter taste in the crowd’s mouth on senior night.
But while disappointment is the logical way to react after concluding a 2-10-1 (1-7 Big Ten) season, Michigan is anything but down after finishing second-to-last in the conference.
To the contrary, there is talk about contending for a national title.
“If we can get a great effort from everyone, there is no reason why we can’t be making a run for the national title,” Todd said Friday night. “I thought that at the beginning of the year, and I still do.”
You could say this is the part of the season the whole team has been waiting for.
And that’s because it’s tournament time.
The team’s glaring weakness all season long – its youth and lack of depth – can be left behind, and Michigan’s four wrestlers ranked in the top-six can take center stage in an arena that favors having a few very strong wrestlers rather than a more balanced squad.
“I think our tournament team is going to be tough,” Tannenbaum said following the Penn State loss. “I think a lot of people are going to be caught off guard. I think we’re going to do some damage.”
Going into a bye week before the Big Ten Championships, the Wolverines came away this weekend with many positives.
With No. 6 Steve Luke returning to the wrestling mat from injury and Tannenbaum, Churella and Todd all wrestling very well against the Nittany Lions and Wildcats, Michigan appears to finally be ready for the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
“We had a few individuals who looked really good,” Tannenbaum said. “So, there were some positives. You look at those things as you’re getting ready for Big Tens and nationals.”
This year, Michigan had more Big Ten losses then they had the previous seven seasons under McFarland. But McFarland realizes that it is going to come down to these tournaments in order to redeem a dissatisfying season.
“Now it comes down to individual performances,” McFarland said. “Hopefully we can just finish strong here and finish where we want to finish.”