On the football field, Michigan couldn’t hang with Appalachian State. On the hardwood, Harvard ran the Wolverines out of the gym. But on the wrestling mat, it was a different story.
Led by three pins from junior Steve Luke, the Michigan wrestling team defeated Harvard 35-12 and Columbia 43-3 before downing Appalachian State 32-9 at the Lone Star Duals in South Grand Prairie, Texas.
Luke, the nation’s No. 2 wrestler in the 174-pound division, deftly executed a variety of holds to tally the falls, giving Michigan 18 bonus points.
The All-American earned outstanding wrestler accolades for the Lone Star’s upper weights, along with Michigan coach Joe McFarland’s praise.
“Not only was (Luke) turning guys on top and pinning them, but he was executing some different things that we’ve been working on in practice,” McFarland said. “I’m really happy with how he wrestled over the weekend.”
In addition to Luke, several other Wolverines turned in impact performances.
Senior captain Eric Tannenbaum, ranked No. 1 nationally at 165 pounds, forced an injury default against Harvard’s Matt Button halfway through the day’s first event to evaporate a three-point deficit and give Michigan a lead it didn’t relinquish.
Wolverine grapplers swept the next four weight classes, highlighted by redshirt freshman Anthony Biondo’s three takedowns in a dominant technical fall performance (15-0). Michael Watts picked up right where Michigan left off to open the afternoon meet against Columbia. The Lions’ Brandon Kinney tied the match with a takedown late in the third period, but Watts wriggled away for a one-point immediate escape to upset the No. 17 125-pounder in a dramatic finish.
Watts’s tenacity and confidence set the tone for the remainder of the meet, a winning trend the Wolverines hope to continue into the second half of the season.
“The more aggressive Michael is, the better results he has,” McFarland said. “We need him at 125 (pounds). It gets us off on the right foot, it gets momentum on our side, it gets us that first win.”
Columbia’s lone win came at heavyweight in the dual’s final match and the Wolverines’ 43-3 victory represents its highest point total and margin of victory since a 50-0 trouncing of Marquette in 2001.
Michigan dropped the first two matches of its evening dual meet against Appalachian State, but freshman Kellen Russell showed why he’s already on his way to becoming one of the school’s all-time greats.
Ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds, Russell scored two takedowns against the Mountaineers’ Marcus Cox before pinning him late in the first period. It was the first fall of Russell’s collegiate career.
The High Bridge, N.J., native’s three wins at the Lone Star Shootout ran his career record to 18-0 – the best career start in Michigan history.
An outstanding finish against the Mountaineers gave Michigan a 25-4-1 record for the day and plenty of momentum heading into next week’s NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“Next week is going to be our biggest challenge all year. All the top teams in the country will be there and we want to see how we stack up,” McFarland said.
Judging from their showing this weekend, the Wolverines stack up pretty well – in wrestling at least.