Coaches are always looking for any break they can find for their team. Fortuitous scheduling can sometimes be that crucial break. It’s always beneficial to have some luck, but the team still must capitalize on it.
The Michigan wrestling team certainly did. The Wolverines came off a bye week and swept both matches this weekend, looking fresh and strong in the process. Saturday night, Michigan dispatched No. 16 Northwestern, 22-15, and proceeded to beat intrastate rival No. 18 Michigan State 27-12 on Sunday behind a vocal and enthusiastic packed crowd at Cliff Keen Arena. The victories improved the fourth-ranked squad to an 11-2 mark and an undefeated 3-0 in the Big Ten.
“I think we really took advantage of (the break),” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We were able to give the kids a couple of days to rest, then worked them real hard for five or six days before letting them prepare for the weekend.”
The wrestlers responded extremely well, and they all turned in gritty performances. Mark Moos and Josh Churella – 133 pounds and 141 pounds, respectively – were the two best individual performers this weekend.
Moos hardly broke a sweat this weekend. Ranked 12th in his weight class, Moos pinned Northwestern’s Daniel Quintela in 32 seconds, then followed that up the next day by pinning Spartan Jeff Wimberley in 45 seconds.
“I’ve really been wanting to work on my conditioning, so I didn’t want to pin him right away,” Moos said with a smile after his first match.
But the team will be content with that sort of effort on a consistent basis.
“The pin (over Wimberley) really got us into the match emotionally,” McFarland said. “(Moos is) working real hard in practice, and it’s showing on the mat.”
Churella also turned in an impressive performance over the weekend, with the extremely difficult task of wrestling Michigan State’s fourth-ranked Andy Simmons and Northwestern’s sixth-ranked Ryan Lang. The fifth-ranked Wolverine relished this challenge and won both matches by decision. Churella defeated Simmons in the Big Ten championship last year.
“I needed to open up this time against Simmons because I wrestled too timid last year,” Churella said. “I’ve been a little frustrated since the Lehigh match, and I’ve wanted to open up.”
Moos and Churella gave the Wolverines an early cushion and allowed them to cruise to victories in both dual meets.
Redshirt freshman Casey White provided an inspiring performance in his match on Sunday, defeating Michigan State’s Jeff Clemens by a 9-5 decision. Down 5-3 in the third period and noticeably limping around the mat, White seemed to be in serious trouble. But White gritted out the rest of the period, scoring a reversal, a three-point near fall and a riding time advantage above one minute that gave him an additional point. The effort further fired up the energetic crowd.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going in the match that allowed me to fight through,” White said after the match as he was icing his hurt ankle.
After White’s victory sealed the match for the Wolverines, the only thing left to decide was whether third ranked heavyweight wrestler Greg Wagner could remain undefeated. Wagner and his co-captain, top ranked 165-pound class wrestler Ryan Churella, both won their matches this weekend to remain undefeated and improve to 18-0 on the season.
Redshirt sophomore Jeff Marsh also stepped up over the weekend, defeating Northwestern’s Greg Hagel 7-5 in overtime. The 157-pound class wrestler earned his first victory at Cliff Keen Arena.
The weekend also marked the debut of the Blue Crew student cheering section, and it was an overwhelming success. Players and coaches both credited the group for drawing stalling warnings on the opposition and helping to motivate the Michigan wrestlers.
“Our fans really got us pumped up today, as I had to keep on pushing hard,” White said.
Added McFarland: “It was a great crowd tonight. I love the Blue Crew!”
Michigan will lose the home advantage next weekend when it travels to Champaign to face No. 3 Illinois next Friday. The Wolverines’ next home match is Feb. 17 against top-ranked Minnesota, and a sellout is anticipated.