IOWA CITY — Michigan had two chances to beat Illinois this weekend at the wrestling Big Ten Championships and went 0-for-2.
After the two teams tied each other for the regular-season championship with identical 7-0-1 records — including a 17-17 tie against each other in Ann Arbor on Feb. 6 — the centerpiece of the Big Ten Championships was the 157-pound title match between Michigan fifth-year senior Ryan Bertin and Illinois junior Alex Tirapelle.
Tirapelle beat Bertin 4-3 for the individual title while the Fighting Illini ran away with 130 points and the team title.
The Wolverines (7-0-1 Big Ten, 15-3-1 overall) finished with 118 points in third behind Minnesota, on the strength of individual championships from redshirt freshmen Josh Churella and Eric Tannenbaum and senior co-captain Ryan Churella.
“Obviously, this is a grueling tournament,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “It’s great to have three individual champions, and I’m proud of how all three of them wrestled this weekend.”
Despite their battle for the team title, Bertin and Tirapelle battled in the only matchup on the mat between the two teams. The two have developed a rivalry over the past two years, with Bertin winning the national championship in 2003 and Tirapelle earning the Big Ten title last year.
With Bertin leading 3-2, Tirapelle scored a takedown with only 15 seconds left to prevent Bertin from winning his first ever Big Ten title. With the win, Tirapelle evened his career record against Bertin to 4-4.
“I looked at the clock with about 30 seconds left, and I stopped wrestling and stopped moving my feet,” Bertin said. “Up until that last takedown, I felt in control of the match.”
Despite losing the match, Bertin was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year for his 26-0 regular season. Yet the accolade wasn’t enough to cheer up the obviously disappointed Bertin, who said he will use yesterday’s loss as motivation for the NCAA tournament in two weeks.
As Bertin finished his last Big Ten tournament on a sour note, two Wolverines earned Big Ten titles on their first try. Josh Churella defeated Michigan State sophomore Andy Simmons 2-1 for the 141-pound title while Tannenbaum beat Wisconsin freshman Craig Henning 3-2 at 149 pounds. Both wrestlers earned early leads and were able to hold on for the victory.
The elder of the Churella brothers, Ryan, won his second-career Big Ten title at 165 pounds by defeating Iowa’s Matt Perry, 6-5, in the championship match.
The two Churella brothers were one of three sets of brothers at the tournament — with the Simmons brothers of Michigan State and the Flaherty brothers of Wisconsin — but they were the only pair to claim two Big Ten titles.
“It’s a great feeling,” Churella said. “We both set this as one of our stepping stones to Nationals, and I just think we’re staying on the right track. We have to close the gap this next week and a half and take it to the next step when we get to the NCAAs.”
In addition to its three champions, Michigan placed five other wrestlers on the podium, including heavyweight Greg Wagner, who finished third.
Seeded second, Wagner was upset 7-5 in overtime in the semifinals by Indiana senior Pat DeGain, but he battled back and dominated Northwestern freshman Dustin Fox 14-1 in the third-place match.
The Wolverines also got a strong performance from junior Mark Moos, who finished fourth at 133 pounds. Moos upset Wisconsin’s Tom Clum 13-6 in the quarterfinals but dropped the rematch 4-3 in the third-place match.
Michigan’s other place-winners were sophomore Nick Roy, who was sixth at 174 pounds, and sophomore Josh Weitzel, who was seventh at 184 pounds.
Finishing at seventh or higher in the Big Ten Tournament qualifies a wrestler for the NCAA tournament, which is the ultimate goal for the Wolverines.
“I think we have a great group of kids going to Nationals,” McFarland said. “We had eight place-winners, and, obviously, Bertin is disappointed, but it’s an easy adjustment to make, and he will make it. It stings to lose like that, but it will give him extra motivation.”