The Michigan wrestling team just added two notches to its belt.
But now the real work begins.
The fifth-ranked Wolverines dominated Michigan State on Friday, 34-8 and Purdue yesterday, 29-18, to secure a share of the Big Ten dual-season championship. Mark Moos, Eric Tannenbaum, Ryan Bertin, Ryan Churella and Greg Wagner all recorded two victories apiece on the weekend and appeared at the top of their games as the postseason approaches. The Wolverines (7-0-1 Big Ten, 15-3-1 overall) share the title with Illinois and will take the next two weeks to prepare for the Big Ten Championships on March 5-6 in Iowa City.
“I think it’s a reflection of the effort these guys have put forth, week in and week out, all season long,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said of the regular-season championship. “It’s a nice accomplishment, especially because the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country.”
Despite the regular-season title, the Wolverines must shift their focus to their main goals — the Big Ten and NCAA Championship tournaments. Several wrestlers showed they are positioned to make long runs in Iowa City and St. Louis, the site of the NCAA Championship.
This weekend, Moos had his best weekend since moving up to 133 pounds in January. He earned a 15-1 major decision over Michigan State’s Ryan Froese on Friday and pinned Purdue’s Sean Schmaltz with just seven seconds remaining in the second period yesterday.
“I got a lot of confidence (from this weekend),” Moos said. “I was feeling bad for myself, and I just got rid of all that. I figured out what I have to do, and now I’m on track again.”
Eric Tannenbaum was the only Michigan wrestler to face ranked opponents in both matches — No. 14 Darren McKnight of Michigan State and No. 10 Doug Withstandley of Purdue — but the sophomore earned decisions in both 149-pound matches. Now ranked No. 5, Tannenbaum knocked off then-No. 5 Ty Eustice of Iowa last week and has not lost a match since his 4-2 loss to No. 4 Matt Storniolo of Oklahoma on January 22.
Fifth-year senior captain Bertin pushed his record to a perfect 24-0 this season with a pin and a technical fall on the weekend. The 2003 national champion at 157 pounds competed for the last time in front of the home fans at Cliff Keen Arena yesterday.
“I’m sad, but I’m kind of happy at the same time,” Bertin said. “It is bittersweet. Once you get to think about it, it’s sad a little bit, but I’m ready to be done. Two weeks from now, I’ll be ready to be done.”
Bertin was at the center of some controversy Friday night, when Michigan State’s Matt McCarty lost consciousness for a moment as Bertin pinned him just 1:19 into the match.
“We just got into a turk position,” Bertin said. “I got him around the neck, and it was a legal hold. I had it really tight and the way he was fighting against it, he was basically just choking himself out — he kept fighting into it as opposed to trying to fight away from it.”
Senior captain Ryan Churella earned two victories at 165 pounds on the weekend as well, with the second coming by forfeit against Purdue. Churella is ranked No. 2 and has won 28 consecutive matches since dropping his first match of the year to Lehigh’s No. 1 Troy Letters.
Perhaps the best sign of the weekend was No. 3 heavyweight Wagner’s resurgence. The junior pinned the Spartans’ Max Lossen to close Friday’s meet and then pinned Boilermaker Jake O’Brien in just 2:09 to open the meet yesterday.
“It’s good to get the pins, but I just feel like I have been wrestling better lately,” Wagner said. “I had a little midseason slump, and I’ve been trying to work out of that. I think I’m getting through that now and just building for Big Tens.”
Things did not go perfectly for the Wolverines, as McFarland held two wrestlers out of yesterday’s meet. Willie Breyer — ranked No. 17 at 197 pounds — injured his knee during his 7-6 comeback win against Michigan State’s Jeff Clemens, and he sat out the meet against Purdue to recuperate.
Josh Churella — ranked No. 3 at 141 pounds — was given the day off after a close friend passed away last week. The redshirt freshman contributed to Friday night’s win with 15-6 decision over Spartan Tony Greathouse.
The win over Michigan State gave the Wolverines another championship, the Pontiac Challenge Cup, for the winter season. The win clinched Michigan’s fifth consecutive victory over the Spartans in the intrastate competition. The wrestlers were presented with the trophy and sang ‘The Victors’ on the mat in the center of Jennison Field House.
But the Wolverines know that they must move past these accolades if they are to accomplish their main goals.
“Now we have a fresh start again,” McFarland said. “We’ve talked all year long about finishing strong this year and being ready at the end of the season. Obviously, we are going to refocus now and get ready for the tournament. We have two big tournaments ahead of us and, hopefully, our best wrestling is yet to come.”