Since forming last January, the Michigan club wrestling team has achieved more than anyone had initially expected.

In its first full year of competition, the team won two dual meets at Cliff Keen Arena, achieved a top-25 ranking, beat rival Ohio State at its conference tournament and sent three wrestlers to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Nationals in March in Hampton, Virginia.

These achievements are especially impressive considering students are not only the athletes, but they are also the coaches.

“It’s a challenge,” sophomore coach Jake Mills said. “We wrestle against a lot of teams that have paid coaches, give out scholarships and are fully-funded programs by the university.”

In the NCWA, the Wolverines are somewhat of an anomaly. Most of the teams in the NCWA are actually the varsity programs at their university even though they do not compete at the NCAA level. Because of Title IX rules, most of these teams are forced to participate at a club level despite some university funding. The teams will have a professional coach and give wrestlers scholarships to come wrestle for their team.

Because Michigan already has a varsity wrestling team, the club wrestling team is unable to take advantages of the benefits that these other teams have. Though they get funding by the Department of Club Sports and use the new Bahna Wrestling facility at the Varsity Tennis Complex, the success of the team depends solely on the students who run it. The team is an officially registered student organization and is forced to recruit its members through events like Festifall, the Rec Sports Expo and simply by word of mouth.

“The club is that gap between high school wrestling and full Division I wrestling,” Mills said. “For guys that come out of high school and come here, it’s either they wrestle at the IM tournament, which is just one day, or they wrestle on the varsity team, which is a serious commitment that a lot of guys aren’t ready for.”

The club wrestling team views itself as being just a step below the varsity level. They work out and practice alongside their varsity counterparts and have achievements to show just how close they are to the varsity level. In what Mills labeled a building year, the team was nonetheless able to qualify three wrestlers for the NCWA Nationals. Freshman Scott Robbins qualified at the 197-lb weight class, freshman Max Hill qualified at 174 lbs and senior Justin Kahl qualified at 235 lbs.

Building upon this year’s success, Mills and sophomore coach Jordan Lutren have multiple goals for next season. Mills hopes to have 20 to 25 wrestlers at every practice with at least 300 people in attendance at home dual meets. In terms of competition, the team hopes to qualify more wrestlers for nationals and hopes that one or two wrestlers gain All-American status in their weight class, meaning that they are in the top eight in the nation.

Overall, the club wrestlers just love wrestling and want to continue to compete at a high level. That’s why they join.

“Jake and I, we love the sport and this is a way for us to continue doing what we love,” Lutren said.

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