COLUMBUS — The partisan crowd at Ohio State’s St. John Arena last Friday was cheering as loudly as possible, trying to rally their grappler to put the stamp on a wildly successful meet.
But with one quick thrust of his body, redshirt freshman heavyweight Ben Apland silenced everyone and salvaged the night for himself.
The young Wolverine managed to close Michigan’s disappointing 29-9 dual meet loss to the rival Buckeyes with a thrilling 10-8 decision over Ohio State heavyweight Corey Morrison. Despite the experience gap, Apland wasn’t intimidated.
“It’s college, so I got to compete with whoever I go out there against,” said Apland. “I showed that tonight, that I can compete with older guys as well.”
Apland’s victory over the 2009 NCAA qualifier was also a career milestone, as it was his first ever road victory in a Big Ten dual meet. His performance allowed him to move one step closer to evening his record, placing his season mark at 11-12. For such an inexperienced wrestler, hovering around the .500 mark is a sign of improvement.
“I just like the way he competed,” Michigan wrestling coach Joe McFarland said. “That’s the way my guys need to go out there and compete … Anytime you got an opportunity to [wrestle quality competition], it can’t do anything but help you.”
The match was a low-scoring, back-and-forth affair, as neither grappler was able to gain a clear advantage. Morrison repeatedly shot in on Apland’s legs to try and drive him to the mat. Though Apland consistently allowed this to happen, he was able to prevent a takedown on almost every occasion, drawing the frustration of the jeering Buckeye fans.
“I got in on him pretty early and started off the match with a nice takedown, so I got my confidence going,” Apland said. “Even though he got in on me a few more times, I knew I had the confidence to get in and score on him.”
As time dwindled away in the third period, it seemed that Morrison, who had an 8-7 lead, was going to steal the win and put the exclamation point on a dominant Ohio State team performance.
But Apland responded. He managed to escape from a Morrison attack to even the score, and quickly engineered a takedown with only 11 seconds left on the clock. The stunned arena could only watch as the Wolverine held on for the win.
“I just had to know that I wanted it more than [Morrison] did, and it showed at the end,” Apland said.
Such an accomplishment only helps to further the young wrestler’s development. His uneven season record belies what is sure to be a successful future, as he and the young Michigan squad continue to gain valuable experience in a tough season.
“I’ve always known Ben’s going to be a great heavyweight, and that was just another glimpse of how good that guy’s going to be,” McFarland said. “For him to be able to come out here and compete the way he did, it says a lot about his future. He’s gonna be a great heavyweight for us.”
If his victory over Morrison is any indication, that could be sooner rather than later. For a struggling Wolverine team, who has lost seven straight dual meets, it will be a welcome development.