The Michigan wrestling team boasted its roster depth during the intrasquad meet with a range of returning standouts and a promising freshman class.
Thursday marked the second round of the wrestle-offs before the starting lineup is finalized, and a handful of Wolverines clinched their spot for the upcoming season. Redshirt junior Eric Grajales highlighted the Blue squad in its 23-20 win over the Maize team and swept the series over redshirt sophomore John Evashevski.
Grajales came out with a quick attack and a takedown in the opening minute of the 149-pound match. He was looking for back points before the referee called the position a stalemate. But the Brandon, Fla. native quickly returned with a three-point near fall and a 2:07 pin to shut down Evashevski.
After finishing third in the 2012 Big Ten Championships, Grajales comes into the season with higher expectations for himself.
“I didn’t have a bad season last year … but it wasn’t what I wanted,” Grajales said. “I’ve been working a lot on attacks from the standing position, different takedowns, turns and the same stuff that everyone’s working on — just trying to be more mentally tough.”
Michigan coach Joe McFarland was satisfied with his veterans’ performances, which included solid meets from redshirt junior Dan Yates and redshirt sophomore Max Huntley, both of which qualified for the conference and national championships last season.
Yates, who moved up to the 174-pound weight class, throttled redshirt freshman Brandon Hill with a 20-4 technical fall. In the first period, the Hesperia, Mich. native notched four takedowns and a two-point near fall before capping the match at 4:41.
With the Maize team trailing before the 197-pound exhibition, Huntley clocked a 2:26 pin on redshirt freshman Miles Trealout to knot it at 20. He registered a pair of early takedowns and five back points, stealing an easy win over the 184-pounder.
The seasoned wrestlers brought back memories of last year’s success — an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Tournament — but the highly touted freshmen class brings what McFarland calls “new blood and new energy” to the team.
Tagged as the fifth-ranked recruiting class by The Open Mat, three of the six freshmen earned starting jobs.
Rossi Bruno and Taylor Massa posted major decisions in the 133-pound and 165-pound bouts, respectively. In the 184-pound contest, Jordan Thomas used a high crotch and single leg takedown to claim his spot in the 5-2 win.
“It’s hard to explain how great our room is right now,” Grajales said. “The older guys don’t want to be getting beat by freshmen and freshmen want to prove they’re good enough to be there.”
Though McFarland has built his lineup with a range of experience and talent, there’s still an unclaimed spot up for grabs.
Kellen Russell headlined the 141-pound category in nearly every win during the 2011-12 season. But his graduation, after claiming two national titles and four Big Ten crowns, left a hole in the lineup.
McFarland has yet to determine whether junior Steve Dutton, a transfer from Lehigh, or redshirt freshman Camryn Jackson will fill the empty slot.
Jackson scored back-to-back takedowns late in the second period, but the clock stopped after 4:49 on Dutton’s injury timeout. What looked like a clean takedown, forced the Lehigh standout to give the injury default, splitting the series.
Dutton aside, two additional grapplers — redshirt senior (heavyweight) Ben Apland and redshirt junior (157 pounds) Brandon Zeerip — are recovering from shoulder surgeries. But Michigan looks to compensate for its losses with the depth it maintains in the lineup.
“I like this team we’ve got,” McFarland said. “The guys have responded — I mean they really have. They’re got great attitudes. They’re working hard. I think we’re challenging them mentally and physically and trying to work on that toughening up process. … We’ve just got to keep plowing forward.”