Michigan wrestling continues to build upon its nearly century-old legacy. On the mat where they once wrestled stood the many generations that represent that tradition. It was Alumni Day on Sunday, and Cliff Keen Arena welcomed back its former wrestlers with open arms.
Many left Michigan to achieve greater things, claiming titles as All-Americans, national champions and Olympians. But at heart, they will always be Wolverines and are always humbled in their returns.
“It takes you right back. It’s been 30 years, but it’s just like I was here yesterday,” said program alum Jeff Henry (1977-78).
Henry expressed how impressed he was with the current No. 10 Michigan team and its victory over Central Michigan. The Wolverines were forced to rally, but came out on top, 23-14, in their last non-conference meet of the season.
It was an ongoing battle after the Chippewas managed to put the first points on the board. But Michigan won the next three matches.
Following a 4-2 decision in the 133-pound category, fifth-year senior Kellen Russell gave Michigan a two-point lead with his performance in the 141-pound bout.
It was a rematch of the Michigan State Open championship round from earlier in the season, and Russell’s opponent — sophomore Scott Mattingly — was seeking revenge. It was neck and neck, and Mattingly scored a three-point near fall on Russell.
“I made a mistake, and that happens,” Russell said. “I knew he couldn’t hang with me on my feet. I took him down pretty easily.”
Mattingly tried to take advantage of Russell in the midst of a scramble. But Russell was confident that he would take the win, which he completed with a 12-9 final.
Following Russell’s lead was 149-pound redshirt sophomore Eric Grajales. With three takedowns off leg attacks and a two-point tilt, Grajales earned a 12-4 major decision.
Grajales is consistently aggressive on the mat, which might stem from his choice of music right before a match.
“(I’m) definitely psyching myself up,” Grajales said. “It’s usually metal, something very fast-paced and hard. I’m not the kind of person that likes to be calm or too relaxed before a match, I want to be amped up.”
Yet even after a win, Grajales stays in that mode. As the majority of his teammates sit in silence while watching a match, Grajales is right alongside the coaches and spectators, yelling with both excitement and fury.
“I’ve always been a very vocal person,” Grajales said. “I want them to do just as well as I want myself to do. … It’s hard not to scream.”
But even with thunderous support, the Wolverines weren’t able to maintain a lead and twice allowed Central Michigan to tie up the score.
It came down to the final two Wolverines — redshirt freshman Max Huntley at 197 pounds and redshirt junior heavyweight Ben Apland — who each topped their opponents.
Huntley stole the match with four takedowns and 2:37 in riding time advantage, and Apland clinched his win with a fall.
Coming into the meet, Apland was ranked 14th and his Chippewa opponent Peter Sturgeon 13th. Apland gained momentum early in the first period with a takedown and accumulation of riding time.
At the sound of the whistle signifying the end of the second period, the referee called the fall on Sturgeon at 5:00 flat. It was a mild upset, but an upset nonetheless.
Had Apland lost with a decision, the meet would have ended in a tie. Luckily for Michigan, that was not the case.
“I felt just good,” Apland said. “I was getting a lot of attacks in practice.”
The team ended the dual on a high note but now looks ahead to finish the season the same way.
In the upcoming weeks, the team has four Big Ten duels with nationally ranked teams.
“Those duels are going to be a dogfight,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “We just gotta keep doing what we do.”