COLUMBUS — The toughest competition that NCAA wrestling
has to offer takes place every year during the Big Ten
championships.

Entering the final round of this year’s competition, the
Michigan wrestling team had three competitors eyeing an individual
Big Ten title. Only one Wolverine came home with a title, while the
team finished in fourth place.

“As a team overall, I just think some of our guys need to
wrestle a lot tougher,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said.
“Even though we only won one of three in the finals, I
thought our finalists wrestled really good tournaments.”

Michigan sophomore Ryan Churella wrestled his way to the top,
earning Michigan’s solo Big Ten title. In the 149-pound
finals, Churella wrestled fifth-seeded Matt Storniolo of Penn
State. The match between two leg-riding wrestlers saw Churella
score first, reversing the Nittany Lion in the second period to
take a 2-0 lead. The Wolverine added near-fall points in the third
period to capture the individual Big Ten title, 5-0. Churella
became Michigan’s first Big Ten Champion since Otto Olson won
the 174-pound title in 2002.

“This really means a lot,” Churella said. “To
win it all this season is a big step heading into
NCAA’s.”

Senior Foley Dowd, squaring off against third-seeded Mark Jayne
of Illinois, was the top seed and favorite to win the 133-pound
title. Jayne attacked first, shooting a single leg that Dowd
quickly defended. The Wolverine scored first, hitting a double leg
to take a 2-0 lead. Jayne took a 3-2 lead in the second period,
spinning around Dowd with a low single leg. Dowd knotted the score
at 3-3 in the third period with an escape, but Jayne was able to
manage a third and final takedown to take a 5-4 victory. With six
seconds left, Dowd hit a throw that sent Jayne flying, but was
unable to score on it. The loss marked Dowd’s first on the
season.

157-pound junior Ryan Bertin, the defending national champion,
took the mat next against the only remaining undefeated wrestler,
Illinois’ Alex Tirapelle. As recently as last year at the
NCAA Championships, Bertin beat Tirapelle in a 7-4 decision. Bertin
wasn’t so lucky this time. Bertin attacked with a single leg
late in the first period. Tirapelle quickly countered putting
Bertin to his back and jumping out to a 5-0 lead. The move put
Bertin in a hole he couldn’t claw his way out of, and he was
handed a 6-0 loss en route to a second-place finish.

“Bertin’s match came down to one situation where he
attacked and got caught in a cradle and those five points were the
difference,” McFarland said. “Dowd and Bertin —
those guys will go back and refocus for NCAA
Championships.”

Two notable names absent from Michigan’s final round
roster were 165-pound senior Pat Owen and heavyweight junior Greg
Wagner. Both wrestlers were seeded second.

Owen snuck past his first round match with Michigan
State’s Matt McCarty. It appeared he had been pinned, but the
referees ruled that Owen was hurt before the pin was made. The
ruling was changed to a takedown with near-fall points and Owen
found himself down 0-6. The time to rest helped as he stormed back
with six unanswered points before putting McCarty away with five
seconds left in the match, 11-9. Owen took a match from Ben Hay of
Illinois before losing his next match to Minnesota’s
third-seeded Jacob Volkmann, 10-5. Owen battled back in his next
match, crushing Kelly Flaherty of Wisconsin, 8-0. Owen once again
met Ben Hay, this time in the third-place match at 165-pounds,
beating him for the second time of the weekend.

“Going 4-1 and then losing to one of the top guys in the
country (Minnesota’s Volkmann) isn’t bad, but like most
wrestlers I’m never satisfied with third place or even second
place,” Owen said. “My goal was to win a Big Ten title
but my next focus is NCAAs, and I think I’ve put myself in a
good position.”

In the semifinals, Wagner dropped a tough 3-1 decision to Penn
State’s Pat Cummins — a wrestler whom he had beaten in
a match-up earlier this season. Wagner, clearly frustrated by his
premature exit from the championship round, made quick work of his
first consolation-round opponent Israel Blevins, 10-9.

During his match with Blevins, Wagner let out a little of his
frustration by shoving his opponent off the mat and into a wall. It
only cost him a point for unnecessary roughness. In the consolation
finals, Wagner struggled and dropped a 8-2 decision to Cole Konrad
of Minnesota.

“I got a few guys that just aren’t committing on
their attacks and that hesitation is costing us,” McFarland
said. “It just cost Wagner that match.”

Illinois, who sent two Michigan wrestlers home without a title,
continued to wreak havoc on the Wolverine squad. The Illini bumped
Michigan out of the top three in team scoring, making the
Wolverines’ 96 points worthy of a fourth place finish. Iowa
ran away with the team title, with 129.5 points. Minnesota made a
late push to finish second with 124.5, and Illinois dropped in
right behind in third with 98.5.

“I was just a little disappointed that we let third place
slip away, but I guess we just didn’t do the things we needed
to maintain it,” McFarland said. “I think we just have
to wrestle a little tougher at (the) NCAAs.”

Freshmen Mark Moos and Nick Roy also qualified for the NCAA
Championships in two weeks by finishing sixth and seventh,
respectively.

“I lost a lot of close matches where I was winning and I
could have done better,” Roy said. “But when you go to
the NCAAs, it doesn’t matter what seed you are, it just
matters how ‘on’ you are.”

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