The Michigan wrestling team found out that they have the persistence of champions on Saturday, surmounting an early deficit in the Big Ten opener.

Michigan Wrestling
Junior Josh Churella helped the Wolverines rebound from an early 12-3 deficit. (STEVEN TAI/DAILY)

No. 3 Michigan dug out of a 12-3 hole against No. 12 Penn State to win 23-15. The Wolverines struggled early, dropping three of the first four matches. Only after redshirt junior Josh Churella won his match at 141 pounds did the Nittany Lions’ momentum cease. Michigan then rattled off victories in four of the last five matches to roll to a win.

The start of the meet at State College didn’t go as the Wolverines envisioned. Fifth-year senior co-captain Greg Wagner won his match against Aaron Anspach, 8-2, in the heavyweight bout. But he was the lone Wolverine to win his match in the meet’s first four contests, putting the team behind by a 12-3 deficit.

“You never like to get behind like that,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “It especially got the momentum on their side, and their fans got a little loud. I think Josh Churella did a good job of getting things back in our corner again.”

Churella, ranked seventh in the country at 141 pounds, scored a major decision 9-1 over DeWitt Driscoll to earn four points for Michigan, inching them closer to the lead.

The redshirt sophomore scored early and often in the 141-pound match. After opening the match with an early takedown, he took down his opponent again in the first period and scored a reversal from the down position in the second period to take a 6-1 advantage into the third. The crucial point in the match came with fewer than 10 seconds left, where Churella was able to score a final takedown. The last-second takedown in addition to his one point for riding time was enough to give him the major decision, which added an extra point to Michigan’s team score.

“Josh is always ready to score first,” McFarland said. “He scored the first takedown right away, and he kept piling on the points. Then he got a takedown with under ten seconds left to earn an extra team point. Those are some of things that as a coach you really appreciate.”

Redshirt sophomore Eric Tannenbaum, ranked second nationally, followed up Churella’s win with a dominating victory of his own. The 149-pound Tannenbaum defeated James Woodall, 10-4.

After Tannenbaum’s win Penn State’s lead was only 12-10 heading into the 157-pound match that pitted the Wolverines’ 19th-ranked redshirt freshman Steve Luke and Penn State’s 10th-ranked Nathan Galloway. Luke was able to fight off a late comeback by Galloway to garner an 11-9 victory in his Big Ten debut.

“Nerves were a factor,” Luke said. “But I got the win, and that’s all that matters.”

Luke controlled the match for the first two frames, scoring a pair of takedowns in the first period along with a takedown in the second period. With Luke up 9-3 in the third, and looking for a major decision, Galloway surged back by taking down the Wolverine freshman twice in the third period. In the end Luke held off Galloway’s late comeback to persevere.

“Steve really dominated the first two periods,” McFarland said. “He started coasting a little bit and tried to protect his lead instead of trying to score more points. But for it being his first match and being in the tough place that it was, I thought he did a great job.”

Luke’s win gave the Wolverines a 13-12 team lead, and they never looked back.

Fifth-year senior co-captain Ryan Churella pinned Phil Bomberger at 165-pounds, giving Michigan a nearly insurmountable 19-12 lead with two matches remaining. After No. 8 Nick Roy, a redshirt junior, lost his match at 174 pounds, the Wolverines’ lead was cut to four. But redshirt freshman Tyrell Todd quieted the crowd and eliminated any doubt Michigan had of winning the meet. He dominated the 184-pound match against Neil Bretz, earning an 18-5 major decision. His win sealed the victory for Michigan.

“Overall, I was happy with how we performed,” McFarland said. “They were a couple weeks ahead of us. They already had a couple weeks of competition. But I like where we are at, and it’s great to get off to a good start.”

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