For the 20th consecutive year, the Michigan wrestling team will head to Las Vegas to compete in the Cliff Keen Invitational. But this year the Wolverines go as defending champions, and coach Joe McFarland wants the team to do everything possible to remain on top.

“We’re going out there to defend our title,” McFarland said. “(Wednesday) I spoke to the team about the importance of that. We don’t want anyone to take our title from us. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re excited about the opportunity. With 45 teams, there’s going to be a lot of good wrestlers.”

The Wolverines will face a deep field loaded with talent today and tomorrow. Among the teams No. 5 Michigan will see in Las Vegas are Big Ten rivals No. 1 Minnesota and No. 6 Ohio State, as well as No. 11 Missouri and No. 13 Nebraska.

Last year, seniors Otto Olson and Andy Hrovat won individual champions at 174 and 184 pounds, respectively, to lead the Wolverines to first place. With those two gone, Michigan will look for strong performances from the other wrestlers who placed at last year’s invitational. Last year Foley Dowd finished second at 133 pounds, Ryan Bertin, finished third at 157 pounds, and A.J. Grant finished fifth at 125 pounds.

Kyle Smith finished fifth last year at 197 pounds. Two weeks ago Smith wrapped up Michigan’s 26-12 victory over No. 8 Lehigh with a 6-4 upset over then-No. 1 Jon Trenge at 197 pounds. Smith is now ranked No. 4, and will likely face the new No. 1, Nebraska’s Justin Ruiz , this weekend.

“Everybody looks sharp and is wrestling with a lot of intensity in practice, which is what I am always looking for,” McFarland said. “We gave them a couple days off for Thanksgiving and it was good for them both mentally and physically. They’re fresh and ready for this weekend.”

Two wrestlers, Ryan Churella and Mike Kulczycki, are still sidelined. Churella had knee surgery this week, and Kulczycki’s knee is also hurting. McFarland expects them both to be back on the mat sometime after winter break.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.