If the Michigan wrestling team’s season so far could be summarized in a two-word phrase, it’s a “learning experience.” The latest lesson for the young team came this weekend at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, where the Wolverines placed 16th overall.
Michigan is still a team in transition, with more than half of its squad made up of freshmen and sophomores. These large tournaments — this one 42 teams — are excellent ways for the younger wrestlers to gain confidence. In the past, the Wolverines would aim to win this tournament. But coach Joe McFarland knows that this year, the major goal is to use this kind of tournament as a building block. It was also a great way for his young team to get some experience against tough, ranked teams like Ohio State and Cornell.
“We’re going through some growing pains,” McFarland said. “We still need to work on our intensity level. Intensity comes with confidence, and it’s a hard thing because you need that intensity to get those wins, and you need those wins to get your confidence.”
One of the ways the younger Wolverines learned about wrestling was by watching team captain Anthony Biondo, who has talked in the past about leading by example. The redshirt junior hasn’t lost a match for the team since Nov. 7.
Earlier in the young season, Biondo struggled with staying aggressive all match, even though he was winning them. That was not the case this weekend. The captain advanced to the semifinals after defeating Cornell’s Cam Simaz thanks to a last-second offensive strike in the final period.
“I thought he had a great tournament,” McFarland said. “When Anthony wrestles hard and he puts complete matches together, he can beat anyone in the country.”
Biondo ultimately took 6th place at 197 pounds with a 3-0 record. After hurting his knee in an earlier match, McFarland made the decision that it would be wisest to withdraw him from the tournament to avoid further risk.
This weekend’s meet was a test to see if the Wolverines could capitalize on the momentum they generated in last week’s come-from-behind victory against Penn State. The team went out to Las Vegas and showed they were capable of being successful, as all 10 wrestlers won at least one match throughout the two-day tournament.
McFarland and his team watched the championship matches and saw what it takes to win big tournaments. They learned from some of the best teams that it takes aggressiveness, consistency and a refusal to give up.
“In a tough tournament like that, you have to be in the battle and fight every second out there,” McFarland said. “I’m hoping we got a lot out of this tournament and our guys are really trying to figure out and understand what to do to win a tournament like this, and the effort that they need to have when they step on the mat.”