The Michigan wrestling team is closer to full strength than it’s been all year, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
When the ninth-ranked Wolverines head to Columbus this weekend for the Cliff Keen/NWCA National Dual Meet Championships, Ryan Bertin, Ryan Churella and Mike Kulczycki will all be back in action, giving the Wolverines their full lineup for the first time this season.
Kulczycki, sidelined since October with a knee injury, can hardly wait to begin his final season in maize and blue.
“It feels real good to be back with the team,” the fifth-year senior said. “It was hard at first – I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to come back. But now I’m healthy and ready to go.
“We’re at about the halfway point in the season and our real big matches are coming up. This weekend is going to be a good test for us with so many good teams there.”
Michigan opens the tournament against No. 20 Boise State. One matchup to watch will be between No. 7 A.J. Grant of Michigan and No. 4 Ben Vombaur of Boise State at 125 pounds. Grant is 17-4 for the Wolverines this year and is one win shy of 100 for his career.
To do well at the National Duals, Michigan will need a good weekend from 133-pounder junior Foley Dowd, who is having a great year with a record of 18-1.
Every year, the top 16 teams are invited to the National Duals, so the field is always deep. Michigan will be one of eight top-10 teams in Columbus this weekend.
The field also includes a number of familiar foes for Michigan – No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 22 Michigan State. Should the Wolverines prevail against Boise State, they will likely face the Hawkeyes in the second round.
With five Big Ten teams in the tournament and the conference schedule starting next week, Michigan would like to use this weekend to send a message to its rivals.
With wrestlers returning from injury, Michigan coach Joe McFarland will also use the weekend to find a lineup that works. Last year, Kulczycki and Bertin wrestled at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively, but this year, they will split duties at 157 and 165 pounds.
McFarland hasn’t decided yet where the two will wrestle for the rest of the season. Churella will wrestle at 149 pounds this weekend.
“I’m going to weigh in Kulczycki and Bertin at 157, but we will be moving both those guys around this weekend,” McFarland said. “I know all three of them are excited to get out there and wrestle. They’ve really been itching to get back in the lineup.”
Michigan has been inconsistent so far this season, but now that the Wolverines have their full roster healthy, they hope they can generate momentum this weekend to carry them through what will be a demanding conference season.
The season started with an impressive win in the final match in Lehigh’s Grace Hall. In front of a raucous crowd, Michigan took a commanding 23-0 lead and capped it when No. 6 Kyle Smith upset then-No. 1 Jon Trenge.
Since then, the Wolverines have had their share of struggles, finishing seventh at the Cliff Keen Invitational and 10th at the Midlands Championships. Their last meet was a 19-13 loss to Central Michigan on Jan. 5.
But now the team is healthy and rested.
“The team isn’t at 100 percent as yet, but we’re right there,” Kulczycki said. “I think the team is going to be more ready to go knowing that everyone is back.”