EVANSTON The phrase “Best in the Land” appears above the conference logo on the Big Ten Tournament banner.
After a 298-match gauntlet packed into two days, it is easy to see why.
A dazzling array of upsets, near-misses and buzzer-beating takedowns shook up the tournament.
Many unseeded wrestlers will travel to the NCAAs next weekend, while others will stay at home wondering what might have been.
“That”s the way this tournament goes,” Northwestern coach Tim Cysewski said. “The Big Ten will leave some good kids home.”
The Michigan wrestling team is well aware of that after finishing fourth overall. The team was hoping to claim one of the top three positions.
“We didn”t accomplish all of our goals,” coach Joe McFarland said. “I was a little disappointed, but we”ve got eight guys going to nationals right now, which is more than we”ve had in a long time.”
There were definite highlights for the Wolverines. Though Otto Olson was the lone champion, the team received a strong performance from sophomore Mike Kulczycki. Kulczycki moved up from his fifth seed to finish third, avenging two Big Ten losses to wrestlers from Iowa and Ohio State.
“Mike had a great tournament,” McFarland said. “I really thought he wrestled fantastic.”
The Michigan freshmen had mixed results in their first Big Ten tournament. Foley Dowd and Clark Forward both lost seventh place matches, just missing the cut for NCAAs.
But freshman 157pounder Pat Owen continued his recent improvement by finishing seventh and qualifying for nationals.
“I think this will be a great experience for him, to get there as a freshman,” McFarland said. “There”s no pressure on him, so he can just get there and wrestle as hard as he can.”
Minnesota captured the team title thanks to balanced scoring throughout their lineup. No Golden Gopher finished lower than fifth, and eight were in the top three.
Illinois was the surprise team of the tournament, finishing second. The Illini, like Minnesota, were able to place five wrestlers in the championship matches.
Michigan”s Joe DeGain, wrestling in his final Big Ten tournament, finished fourth with a 4-2 record. He will have the opportunity to finish his career at nationals in two weeks.
“I”m real excited for Joe,” McFarland said. “He”s a real hard worker, and he”s one of the leaders of the team. And 197 pounds is a crazy weight. I think Joe is going to be a force at the nationals.”
Though the Wolverines were disappointed with their finish, the team did improve from last season, and the program continues to grow.
“We want to stay in the groove, and make improvements both for nationals and for next season,” McFarland said.