CHAMPAIGN For the No. 2 Michigan wrestling team, the Big Ten Championships were full of “what-ifs.” What if Clark Forward had been healthy enough to compete? What if A.J. Grant scored that crucial second-period escape against Iowa”s Luke Eustice? What if Charles Martelli was able to escape in his double-overtime loss to Minnesota”s Nate Baker?
“I”m going to be thinking and analyzing what we did wrong the entire ride back,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said.
One could play with hypothetical scenarios about Michigan”s performance all day, but the fact is that when it came down to it, the Wolverines failed to perform in the clutch.
The inability of Michigan wrestlers to beat opponents whom they had topped earlier in the season led to their disappointing third-place finish.
“You have to step it up and we didn”t do a good job of that,” McFarland said.
Third-ranked Iowa did everything that Michigan couldn”t as it cruised to a second-place finish behind seemingly unbeatable Minnesota.
The seventh-seeded 125-pounder Eustice pulled off two stunning upsets one over Michigan”s Grant and the other over second-seeded Chris Fleeger from Purdue en route to a second-place finish.
Iowa”s 141-pounder Luke Moffitt, seeded sixth, beat Ohio State”s Robert Sessley in one of the best matches of the year. In double overtime, Moffitt needed to stand up and escape to win. With three seconds left, Sessley shoved Moffitt out of bounds and it looked like the match was over as Sessley just had to hold down Moffitt and run the clock out. To the delight of the boisterous Iowa fan base sitting directly behind the mat, Moffitt exploded up and scored an escape as the buzzer sounded to upset the second-seeded Sessley. In the finals, Moffitt – voted the “Outstanding Wrestler” of the Big Ten Championships upset another higher seed by pinning Minnesota”s Chad Erikson in the second period.
“It”s the end of the year and you have to wrestle with a lot of emotion. Their program (Iowa) has made a living out of that kind of wrestling,” McFarland said.
One can be sure that the Wolverines were missing Forward, a 141-pounder. Forward, who suffered an ankle infection last month, was unable to compete, so redshirt freshman Nick Velissaris was asked to step in.
Velissaris lacked experience and was out-matched in the tournament as he lost by fall and then technical fall in his first two matches and was eliminated.
“I think Clark not being here will hurt us a lot less at Nationals than it did here,” 174-pounder Otto Olson said.
“There are a lot more teams at Nationals that will spread out the points more,”
In addition to Olson”s second consecutive individual Big Ten title and Ryan Bertin”s breakout performance, there was one other positive that came from the tournament the Wolverines will send nine wrestlers to Albany for NCAA Championships in two weeks.