By Eric Chan
Daily Sports Writer
MADISON – The Michigan wrestling team had a great weekend at the Big Ten Championships – except for 21 minutes that is. In the span of those minutes, Michigan went from title contention to battling for a top-five finish.
“I thought we wrestled well,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “Our guys came in and wrestled hard all weekend.”
After the first session, Michigan had five wrestlers in the semifinals and was in third place behind Minnesota and Iowa. The Wolverines looked in prime position to make a run at the crown – but a dismal draw in the brackets would prove to be their undoing. All of the Wolverines looked to be in peak condition and wrestling their best, but it wouldn’t be enough.
“We had some tough matches that round. We had a few against some tough Minnesota guys – two of which were defending national champs,” McFarland said.
In the 149-, 157-, and 165-pound semifinals, three Michigan wrestlers would face three Minnesota wrestlers back-to-back-to-back. The trio for Michigan was Ryan Churella, Ryan Bertin and Mike Kulczycki.
All three Wolverines had been wrestling stellar tournaments, but in the semifinals, they would face two defending national champions and an All-American in Minnesota’s Jared Lawrence, Luke Becker and Jacob Volkmann.
Churella had pinned his first two opponents, but couldn’t find an answer for Lawrence. The freshman phenom’s deadly leg riding wasn’t a factor in the match, as Lawrence was able to control the top position throughout the bout.
On the strength of four takedowns, the defending national champion topped Churella 9-1. Lawrence would dominate in his finals match to repeat as Big Ten champion.
At 157 pounds, Bertin squared off against Becker – a wrestler who had beaten him in all five of their past meetings (including last year’s Big Ten Championship finals). Becker, a senior and the defending national champion, would make it six in a row against the redshirt sophomore. Bertin, one of Michigan’s toughest wrestlers from the standing position, couldn’t manage a takedown, as Becker cruised to a 7-3 win. In the finals, Becker dropped Michigan State’s Gray Maynard to win his second Big Ten title.
The third match in the mini-dual between Michigan and Minnesota was between two 2001 All-Americans. Michigan’s Kulczycki was unable to find an opening for his blow-through double leg takedown as Minnesota’s Jacob Volkmann topped him 4-0.
“To be honest, we’re not really as powerful as Minnesota and Iowa right now, and I think that became evident this week,” McFarland said. “We’re just not the team that Minnesota and Iowa are – we’re still a couple years away from them.”
When the smoke cleared after the semifinals round, 125-pounder A.J. Grant was the only Michigan wrestler remaining in the championship bracket. Iowa and Minnesota would end up with five wrestlers apiece in the Big Ten finals, making both powerhouses nearly impossible to catch.