KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Michigan wrestling coach Joe McFarland couldn’t have been more excited to see tears streaming from the eyes of his 157-pounder, Ryan Bertin. On Saturday, Bertin became Michigan’s first NCAA Champion since current assistant coach Kirk Trost accomplished the feat in 1986.
“I was in a rhythm all weekend,” Bertin said. “Things were flowing – I can’t really explain it. Everything just fell into place.”
Bertin couldn’t have taken the crown in a more exciting fashion. The redshirt sophomore, seeded sixth in the tournament, upset the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds to reach No. 9 Alex Tirapelle from Illinois in the finals. The Fighting Illini freshman had upset defending national champion Luke Becker of Minnesota in the semifinals.
“I knew (Tirapelle) was having a good tournament, but I felt like I was really in a good rhythm,” Bertin said. “I’ve wrestled him before , so I was confident that if I wrestled seven minutes the way I wanted to, that I would win, and that’s what happened.”
Tirapelle beat Bertin earlier in the season, but the Wolverine avenged that loss at the Big Ten Championships. This time around, their match-up would be in a larger venue, with much more on the line. In front of 16,436 fans at Kemper Arena, the two unlikely national finalists stepped out on the mat.
Seconds into the match, Bertin made the first move, attacking with a single leg. Tirapelle quickly countered with a whizzer, tying up Bertin’s arm. The referee called a stalemate, and both wrestlers walked back to the center of the mat.
Tirapelle attacked with a single leg and Bertin sprawled on top of him. The Michigan 157-pounder spun behind and scored the first takedown of the national final match. Bertin added a second takedown in the middle of the second period, firing a double leg that the Illini wrestler couldn’t defend.
Bertin secured the match in the third period, with a quick single-leg takedown. When the buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read 7-3 in favor of Bertin. Normally a quiet and reserved young man, Bertin couldn’t contain his emotions, falling to the mat and breaking down in tears.
“Ryan’s a great a kid. He’s a great student-athlete,” McFarland said. “He was really focused all weekend. He battled back this year from a foot injury. This kid deserves everything he got tonight because he works so hard.”
After shaking hands with Tirapelle, the first person Bertin ran over to hug was assistant coach Tony Robie.
“Coach Robie has worked really hard with him,” McFarland said. “He’s spent a lot of time with him, drilling with him, so he’s the guy who’s done a great job.”
Bertin finished third at Big Ten Championships after losing to Becker in the semi-finals. With a six-seed in the bracket, McFarland noted before the tournament that he “liked where Bertin was in the bracket.” McFarland knew what he was talking about.