One would think that a returning Division I All-American would be guaranteed a roster spot. That’s like asking if Kobe Bryant would start for the Lakers. But what if Kobe suddenly gained seven inches and put on 40 pounds? Then he’d be too big to play guard and he’d have to beat out Shaquille O’Neal at center.
A similar situation is facing Michigan wrestler Mike Kulczycki. Kulczycki, a 2001 All-American, has to work hard to find a spot in this year’s starting lineup.
Kulczycki, who struggled in the postseason last year at 149 pounds, has opted not to try and make 149 this year, and instead will battle for the spot at either 157 or 165 pounds.
“I sat down with Mike and he told me that he doesn’t really think he can make 149,” Michigan wrestling coach Joe McFarland said. “He felt that the cutting weight really hurt him last year at NCAAs. Cutting really takes a lot out of you. He’s just too big for the weight class.”
Kulczycki was ranked in the top 10 in the country throughout last season at 149 pounds.
The senior entered the 2002 NCAA Championships with a No. 6 seed, but was eliminated on the second day of the three-day tournament by the No. 12 seed, Jared Frohardt from Air Force.
“Throughout the whole year, (cutting weight) kept wearing on me – and then it finally caught up to me at nationals,” Kulczycki said.
For Kulczycki to have a starting spot in this year’s lineup, he will either have to beat 2002 All-American Ryan Bertin (ranked No. 4 at 157 pounds in Amateur Wrestling News’ Preseason Poll), or 2001 NCAA qualifier Pat Owen. Redshirt freshman Ryan Churella is the leading candidate to replace Kulczycki at the 149-pound spot.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but I think things will work out for the best,” Kulczycki said. “Everyone always finds a place for themselves.”
Saturday, Michigan will send wrestlers to the Michigan State University Open for the team’s first major preseason action. Some younger members of the Michigan team took the short trip to Ypsilanti this past weekend to compete in the Eastern Michigan University Open, but no former, or even potential 2003 starters wrestled.
The Wolverines going to East Lansing will be wrestling unattached, meaning they will not be affiliated with Michigan.
“The tournament gives us a good gauge of where we’re at. It also gives us some matches under our belt,” McFarland said. “It’s a good starting point.”
Kulczycki, 197-pounder Kyle Smith and 133-pounder Foley Dowd are the three Michigan wrestlers who will try to repeat as Open champions.