Brett Hull. Ken Griffey Jr. Barry Bonds. These three sports greats had one thing in common: Each had the achievements of his father to live up to. Michigan wrestler Ryan Churella is no different.
Churella has a heavy legacy to carry on his shoulder. His father, Mark Churella, was a three-time NCAA champion and is regarded as Michigan’s greatest wrestler ever. In 1996, he was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. His older brother, Mark Churella Jr. was a letter-winner at Michigan as well. Ryan’s younger brother Josh has also been recruited to come to Michigan. Josh has already won two Michigan high school state championships, and is undefeated this season.
Churella, who started wrestling in seventh grade, said that his father’s legacy isn’t really a driving force.
“He’s never really pushed us to wrestle. We did it ourselves,” Churella said.
The redshirt freshman Churella was a top recruit for Michigan last season. In high school, he was a national champion, two-time Michigan state champion and was named as an Amateur Wrestling News first-team All-American.
In his first year, Churella redshirted because All-American 149-pounder Mike Kulczycki was still in the lineup. With Kulczycki sliding into the 165-pound weight class, Churella is now a starter.
“I just got on the mat midseason,” Churella said. “I had knee surgery in December, and I haven’t had that many matches, but I think I’m wrestling alright.”
“Alright” may be a drastic understatement. In his first three matches back from injury, Churella wrestled three of the top 15 149-pounders in the country. Churella lost all three of those matches by a single point. After starting off the season 0-3, Churella has won four of his last five, and was ranked No. 17 in his weight class in Intermat’s latest rankings.
A major test to see whether or not Churella is a national title contender will come this weekend against two Big Ten rivals. Tonight, Churella will take on defending national champion Jared Lawrence when the Wolverines head to Minnesota. On Sunday, when Michigan faces in-state rival Michigan State in East Lansing, Churella will face another ranked wrestler in No. 13 Karl Nadolsky.
Churella hopes to achieve what his father did at Michigan.
“Ultimately, I want to win a national title,” Churella said. “I want to stride for this goal all the time.”
Michigan wrestling fans can only hope that Churella does what Hull, Griffey, and Bonds have already done: one-up their dads.