The Michigan wrestling team may not be satisfied with its performance so far this year, but it can take solace in the fact that the most important part of the year still remains: the Big Ten season.
Tonight, the 10th-ranked Wolverines will put the first half of the year behind them and focus on No. 7 Illinois, which they will visit for their conference opener.
The Big Ten appears to be deeper than ever this year with nine teams ranked in the top 25. Four teams – Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois – are ranked ahead of Michigan.
“We’re not satisfied, but we know we still have time,” Mike Kulczycki said. “In the end, teams look at how they did against the conference and at Nationals, and that’s what’s we have next.”
While that is true, the Wolverines will need to perform better than they have so far to be competitive for the rest of the season. Coach Joe McFarland was especially disappointed to see none of the “in-your-face, aggressive style” that had been Michigan’s trademark.
McFarland instead saw tired wrestlers, particularly in the third period. To combat that, he worked the wrestlers especially hard this week to increase their endurance. He has also demanded more intensity from them in their matches.
Tonight’s most anticipated matchup is between No. 16 Kulczycki of Michigan and No. 1 Matt Lackey of Illinois at 165 pounds.
Kulczycki, who had been sidelined with a knee injury until last weekend, will be wrestling at either 157 or 165 pounds this season after struggling to keep weight at 149 pounds last year.
The fifth-year senior went 4-1 last weekend and was one of the few bright spots in Columbus. Kulczycki had weighed in at 157 pounds, but wrestled four of his five matches at 165 pounds.
Kulczycki felt fast and surprisingly strong at 165 pounds last weekend, but against Lackey, he likely will not feel the same way.
Lackey, the Big Ten champ and National runner-up last year, is 22-0 this year. He has won the Missouri Open, the Cliff Keen Invitational and the Midlands Championships.
Redshirt sophomore Ryan Bertin, ranked third at 157 pounds, also returned from an injury last weekend and faces a tough test against No. 8 Alex Tirapelle of Illinois. Bertin went 4-0 in the National Duals last weekend, surprising McFarland by how little rust he showed.
For Michigan to make some noise during the conference season, McFarland says it will have to put in more time and effort.
“Right now we’ve basically wrestled to our seeding,” McFarland said. “But we want to do better than that. I’ve been pushing them hard in practice, demanding more intensity from them. If they are aggressive and wrestle with intensity, I like our chances.”