The Michigan wrestling team kicked off its Big Ten season in grand fashion last Friday with a 19-13 comeback win at Illinois.

This weekend, the 10th-ranked Wolverines host a pair of Big Ten lightweights ? Indiana and Northwestern. Is a letdown possible?

Coach Joe McFarland doesn’t think so.

“It is something we have mentioned to the guys,” McFarland said. “They do a good job of keeping themselves motivated. Right now we feel good about ourselves and have built some momentum, so they know we need to keep that going. We want them to continue wrestling hard and being aggressive.”

Against Illinois, McFarland saw the aggressiveness he loves. The high level of intensity paid off, as many matches were decided in the third period.

“It was nice to start the Big Ten dual season with a win, especially on the road against an excellent team,” McFarland said. “We left Champaign feeling real good about ourselves.

“It’s our goal to get better week by week, as individual wrestlers and collectively as a team. I was extremely pleased with our effort last Friday.”

One wrestler who has improved each week is heavyweight Greg Wagner. Unranked to start the season, he is now ranked fifth by Amateur Wrestling News. At Illinois, he broke a tie with two matches remaining. Then at the National Duals, he pulled off a pair of upsets.

“He’s done a great job for us,” McFarland said. “Every week he’s gotten better, and that’s all we can ask for. When he gets out there and he really gets after guys and makes it really tough on his opponents. For a lot of guys he’s just too strong.”

The top matchup of the weekend will likely be between No. 16 Kyle Smith and No. 11 Pat DeGain of Indiana. The two met last year in the Big Ten Championships, when Smith won 2-0 to finish in third place. Smith has been inconsistent all season, but may have turned things around. Against Illinois, he looked good in a win over No. 20 Tyrone Bird.

“He really did a good job in practice this week,” McFarland. “He wasn’t happy with how he did last week (at the National Duals), and he handled it well. He put in extra time in practice and focused on conditioning and it paid off. He was aggressive and intense for three periods and that’s what we need from him.”

The three Wolverines who are coming back from injuries continue to progress well. Redshirt freshman Ryan Churella, who struggled against tough competition at the National Duals, looked terrific in a 16-7 major decision over Indiana’s Anthony Pedrosa.

Sophomore Ryan Bertin and senior Mike Kulczycki had tough losses in Illinois, but McFarland is confident they can come back strong.

“Those two guys are two of the most competitive guys in our program,” McFarland said. “With those two, I know I have nothing to worry about.

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