Posted Feb. 25, 2008
Joe McFarland couldn’t help himself Saturday.
The Michigan wrestling coach was pleased with how his team faired during an intense week of practice leading up to Senior Day against Michigan State.
He thought his players’ focus during warm-ups was sharp, and with their in-state rival visiting Cliff Keen Arena, they didn’t need a pre-game speech for extra motivation.
But he still felt compelled to give his four seniors, three of which were starting, a simple message:
“Go out the way you want to go out.”
They did, and with style.
Fifth-year seniors Jeff Marsh, Josh Churella and Eric Tannenbaum all cruised to victories during their last dual-meet in Ann Arbor, spearheading the No. 12 Wolverines to a 24-11 win and snapping a four match-losing streak.
After missing the previous three duals with an illness, the All-American Churella showed no signs of rust Saturday.
With Michigan trailing 8-6 after four matches, the Northville, Mich., native jumped on the Spartans’ Eddie Skowneski early and often. Churella shot his way to two takedowns in the match’s first 50 seconds, and raced out to a 9-1 lead after the end of the first frame.
“I just try to go out there with intensity,” Churella said. “In some matches, you think and wait to shoot. Instead of thinking, you (should) just go out there and work on instinct. You don’t really think.”
Throughout the match, Skowneski appeared as though he didn’t know what to think. Under relentless pressure, Skowneski looked lost as Churella racked up over five minutes of riding time en route to a 16-3 blowout that gave the Wolverines (3-5 Big Ten, 16-8 overall) the lead for the first time all afternoon.
They never relinquished it.
Up by two to start the second period at 157 pounds, Marsh added a reversal and a takedown against the Spartan’s John Fulger to stretch his lead to 6-1. The fifteenth-ranked Dexter, native maintained control throughout the final frame, adding a third period takedown and riding time to clinch a 9-2 decision.
In the ensuing match, Tannenbaum followed Churella’s lead and put on a dominant display of aggression at 165 pounds. The third-ranked Naperville, Ill., native blew the match open quickly with three first-period takedowns against Rex Kendle. Tannenbaum added four more to coast to an 18-6 major decision.
The bout was more lopsided than the score indicated. Tannenbaum allowed Kendle to escape five times in the hope of notching a pin. He didn’t but he continued to toy with Kendle, eliciting cheers and even laughter from some of the 1,342 fans in attendance.
Churella, Marsh and Tannenbaum were part of a 21-0 Wolverine run through six matches that effectively ended the Spartan’s (0-8 Big Ten, 4-12 overall) hopes of achieving their first conference win.
Even though the eye-popping talent the three outgoing wrestlers put on display Saturday has been there all season, McFarland believed his star middleweights used the sentimentality of the circumstances to their advantage.
Churella echoed his coach’s remarks, taking time after the victory to soak in an electric environment.
“It’s a cool atmosphere for our last dual,” Churella said, referring to Senior Day. “It’s kind of a surreal feeling, because I remember my first dual like it was yesterday. I know the season’s not over yet, but it’s good to get this kind of win with all of your family and friends supporting you.”
The Wolverines still have plenty of work cut out for them. Michigan now takes the next two weeks to prepare for the Big Ten championships March 8-9 in Minneapolis.