Having completed its non-conference portion of the season, a stretch littered with dual-meet victories and tournament disappointments, the true test for a young Michigan wrestling team lies ahead. For the next four weeks, the Wolverines will have Big Ten meets every Friday and Sunday — a daunting task when the competition and travel are considered.

“Not only is the competition tough, but the travel is tough as well,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “You’ve just got to try and grind it out.”

Facing seven ranked opponents in eight Big Ten dual meets immediately followed by the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships, the Wolverines will be training on a grind from now until the end of the season.

Each week, Michigan will prepare for both of its weekend meets with an added emphasis on the Friday match. With two practices a day and two meets every weekend, the coaching staff is working on ensuring the team is healthy and at its peak during this difficult stretch.

“It’s going to take us staying focused every afternoon and practice,” McFarland said. “Obviously, we’re going to run up against some stiff competition, so we’re going to have to be ready for those matches.”

In order to prepare for the staunch competition of the Big Ten, the Wolverines scheduled top competition in the early portion of the schedule. McFarland pointed to the talent-heavy tournaments Michigan has competed in, such as the Cliff Keen Invitational and the Midlands Championships, as key experiences for his wrestlers.

“If you look at our schedule from November through the NCAA Championships, there’s not a lot of fluff,” McFarland said.

So far this season, the Wolverines have performed well, finishing non-conference dual meets at 6-1, their best start since the 2007-2008 season. But perhaps even more encouraging for Michigan is its winning record against nationally-ranked opponents.

“I think a lot of the guys are looking forward because they know we’re a really strong dual meet team,” said redshirt junior Dan Yates. “We really get behind each other and push to the next level when we’re in a dual format.”

Yates attributed the closeness of the team as a potential key to success as the Wolverines progress through their difficult schedule.

“We’ve really come together and it’s like one big family,” Yates said. “So I feel like still having fun is definitely going to help prepare (our team) mentally to stay through that grind instead of grinding, grinding, grinding to where you break the kids down and they don’t want to be here anymore, a lot of the guys still love training hard.”

The Big Ten dual-meet season will serve as a new challenge for the young Michigan team, which has had nine wrestlers make their varsity debuts this season. Despite the dearth of wrestlers who have experienced the conference wrestling schedule, many have fared well to this point, and the Wolverines believe they are prepared for what lies ahead.

“The tournaments we’ve had and the duals we’ve had are not easy,” said freshman Rossi Bruno. “We’re used to wrestling the best kids in the country, but the atmosphere of Big Ten duals, every match is just that much more important because it’s not only for you, it’s for your team now too.”

If the Wolverines keep up their preparation and continue their performance in dual meets, they should be a viable competitor in Big Ten competition. Though Michigan has not had an ideal season so far, the schedule that would appear intimidating to many is a welcomed challenge for the Wolverines.

“We want to compete with the best of the best,” Yates said.

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