When the Michigan wrestling team’s season began last November, head coach Joe McFarland’s most difficult task was to find a spot in the lineup for fifth-year senior Mike Kulczycki.

An All-American in 2001 at 149 pounds, Kulczycki struggled at the end of last season and decided he needed to wrestle at a higher weight this season.

But with All-American sophomore Ryan Bertin at 157 pounds, Kulczycki knew a spot wouldn’t simply open up.

McFarland’s plan was to have the two wrestle-off at 157 pounds, and then have the loser battle junior Pat Owen for the spot at 165 pounds.

But instead, injuries and Kulczycki’s unselfish attitude settled the issue.

Until the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, the three wrestlers had never been healthy at the same time.

In January, Kulczycki and Bertin returned from injuries, setting the stage for the delayed wrestle-off. But then Owen was injured, and Kulczycki stepped in at 165, where he has wrestled ever since.

“I talked to Mike and told him it was in the team’s best interest that he wrestle at 165,” McFarland said. “Especially because he’s a senior, he could have been real adamant about at least getting a chance to wrestling at 157.

“The sacrifice he made shows the type of person he is.”

But just when Kulczycki had settled in at 165 pounds, he injured his ankle.

That happened to coincide with Owen’s return, and Owen exceeded expectations, going 4-1 with three pins.

With Kulczycki healthy before Big Tens, he and Owen wrestled-off. Kulczycki won in three tight matches, and Owen moved up to 174 pounds.

Kulczycki demonstrated his All-American talent at the Big Tens, but only in short bursts. In the second round he upset the Ohio State’s second-seeded John Clark 10-5, but he followed that with tough losses to Jacob Volkmann of Minnesota and Penn State’s Doc Vecchio. In an effort to keep him healthy, McFarland had Kulczycki forfeit his fifth-place match against Purdue’s Oscar Santiago.

After being sidelined for nearly a month, the long weekend of wrestling took a toll on Kulczycki, and could be a factor this weekend at the three-day NCAA Championships, which begin tomorrow in Kansas City at Kemper Arena.

“Our plan this week with Mike is to do our best to keep him healthy, because he can have success this weekend,” McFarland said. “He has a chance at being an All-American. I think it’d be a great accomplishment especially with what he’s been through this season.”

Kulczycki realizes his tough season will be long forgotten if he has success in Kansas City this week.

“Last year I had a great season, but things didn’t go well at the end,” Kulczycki said as he entered the Big Tens. “This year the season didn’t go well, but the most important part of the season is coming up, and I’m excited to see what I can do.”

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