No one remembers who finishes second.
But, when teams are up against a nation of skilled college athletes vying for a championship, second-place is pretty darn good.
So when the Michigan men’s wrestling team took second place at last year’s NCAA Championships, the Wolverines saw the season as a success.
“I was really happy with our guys last year,” coach Joe McFarland said. “For the previous four years, we had been in the top-10 but could not break into the top-five. We finally did that last year.”
And break in they did. Headed by five All-Americans, the Wolverines matched the program’s all-time best finish at the NCAAs. Only powerhouse Oklahoma State topped Michigan, a tremendous step forward for the Wolverines’ consistently successful program. Now, with a second-place finish in hand, all of Michigan’s players and coaches know there’s only one way to improve on last season’s success.
“We definitely have the team to do it,” McFarland said. “Our guys are very capable of being there, competing for the title.”
As the 2005-06 season opens, Oklahoma State should once again find itself atop the polls. McFarland admits his team may need a little help at the national championships to get past the Cowboys, but players like fifth-year senior Ryan Churella know the best thing the Wolverines can do is help themselves.
“We have a group of guys who understand what it takes,” Churella said. “They know how to compete on that level, and if we can get a couple more guys to step up and be All-Americans, we’ll have a good shot at the title.”
If Churella’s wish comes true, and Michigan has some new faces earning All-America honors this season, those players will be joining a very talented squad that already returns four of its five All-Americans from last season – Churella, and his younger brother, Josh Churella, plus Eric Tannenbaum and Greg Wagner. All four of them finished in the top-eight of their individual weight classes at NCAAs last season. Though top-eight finishes are impressive, recent success has many of the Wolverines – including Ryan Churella – thinking bigger this season.
After claiming third- and fourth-place finishes in the 165 pound weight class at the last two national championships, Churella’s hunger for the top individual spot is stronger than ever.
“I know he wants it,” McFarland said. “It’s the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up and the last when he goes to bed. We’ve sat down, and he’s written about it – he wants to be a national champion.”
It should come as no surprise that Churella has such high aspirations, since he came from an impressive lineage of wrestlers. Churella’s father Mark was a three-time national champion for the Wolverines in the mid-’70s, and even though it has always been a goal of Ryan’s to follow in his father’s footsteps, he also wants to create his own legacy at Michigan.
“We’ve never won a national championship as a team here,” Churella said. “It would mean so much to us and the school if we could finally do that this year.”
In his last season as a Wolverine, Churella has one final shot to shape how he will be remembered. Since few people remember who finishes second, Churella and the rest of his teammates will do everything they can to make sure they aren’t forgotten.