After a Big Ten regular season featuring multiple close losses against teams it expected to defeat, the Michigan wrestling team won matches it was supposed to lose in the Big Ten Championships, as seven Wolverines outplaced their seeds. Though no Michigan wrestler finished higher than fourth in his weight class, nine Wolverines placed between fourth and seventh individually, leading Michigan to a sixth-place team finish in Champaign.
“For the most part, overall, as a team, the fact that we either finished or exceeded our seed in the tournament is a really, really good sign,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland.
Of the seven Wolverines who earned automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, fourth-seeded 125-pound redshirt junior Sean Boyle led the way by finishing fourth in his weight class. In a rematch of a tight match earlier this semester, Boyle earned a 4-2 decision over No. 5 Ohio State’s Nikko Triggas in the quarterfinals after defeating him 2-1 in the regular season.
“I thought I wrestled better this time,” Boyle said. “It’s definitely a rivalry and they qualify seven people at the weight. Winning that match automatically put me in the top six.”
Though Boyle was pinned in 2:46 by Iowa’s top-seeded Matt McDonough in the semifinals, he won his first consolation match before falling to Penn State’s No. 2 Nico Megaludis by way of a 4-1 decision.
“He did a lot of things that we’ve been talking to him about,” McFarland said. “He wrestled with a lot of intensity.”
No. 3 165-pound freshman Taylor Massa finished fifth and was the second-highest finisher for Michigan. Massa defeated Northwestern’s No. 6 Pierce Harger twice, once by decision in the quarterfinals and again in the fifth place match with a 17-0 technical fall.
On Saturday, No. 8 174-pound redshirt junior Dan Yates completed the biggest upset of the weekend for Michigan, defeating Minnesota’s No. 1 Logan Storley by maintaining an early lead after a takedown. Despite the surprising victory, Yates failed to gain momentum, losing his next three matches on his way to a sixth place finish.
One Wolverine who didn‘t come close to meeting his expectations was No. 1 149-pound redshirt junior Eric Grajales. After going undefeated during regular-season conference play, Grajales lost to Ohio State’s No. 8 Ian Paddock in the quarterfinals on a 7-4 decision. Grajales followed up that upset with another one in his first consolation match against Penn State’s No. 5 Andrew Alton. According to McFarland, Grajales’ seventh-place finish was likely caused by an ankle injury that prevented him from practicing full speed in the two weeks leading up to the tournament.
Overall, Penn State finished first in the tournament, followed by Minnesota and Iowa. Though he didn’t have a wrestler finish in the top three of any weight class, McFarland said that the tournament changed his view on his team’s chances in the NCAA Championships for the better.
“After this tournament, I feel that our guys will be better prepared for the national tournament,” McFarland said. “I don’t think there’s anything that can prepare you for the NCAAs as well as the Big Ten Championships.”