Drew Lashaway thought he had him.
In the opening moments of the Kent State junior’s 141-pound matchup with Michigan’s undefeated freshman Kellen Russell, Lashaway lunged forward and tightly gripped Russell’s left leg. He was inches away from wrapping up Russell’s free leg, which would have set up a takedown and added to the 7-0 Golden Flashes’ lead after the opening two matches.
But in a matter of seconds, Russell frustrated another ranked opponent and permanently shifted the momentum to the Wolverines.
Russell’s performance ignited No. 7 Michigan (4-1) to a 26-14 victory at Cliff Keen Arena on Friday night.
While fighting his way out of Lashaway’s hold, Russell hopped, spun, jerked and twisted his leg free. Russell immediately countered with a two-point takedown, an impressive display of agility that gave life to a then-placid home crowd and left Lashaway bewildered at the sudden turn of events.
“I think that’s kind of demoralizing, when you’re in that deep on a shot and the guy’s able to scramble out,” said Russell, who’s ranked fourth nationally in the 141-pound weight class. “But that’s how I like to wrestle. I like to scramble.”
Russell eventually came away with the 8-2 victory and the Wolverines didn’t let up.
All-American seniors Josh Churella and Eric Tannenbaum, senior Jeff Marsh and All-American junior Steve Luke rattled off four consecutive victories, all winning by at least seven points. What once was a 7-0 Kent State lead quickly spiraled into a 21-7 deficit.
“(Russell) did a great job of getting the momentum back on our side after we lost the first two matches,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “He’s all business when he steps onto the mat. You can see the feel he has for wrestling.”
While the Wolverines’ decorated upperclassmen opened the floodgates, it was another newcomer who decisively ended any hopes of a Kent State comeback.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Biondo, ranked No. 18 at 197 pounds, improved to 13-4 this year after dominating Kent State’s Michael Blackwell in a 19-3 route. The win earned Biondo his first technical fall of the season and pushed Michigan to a 26-10 lead and out of the Golden Flashes’ reach.
Biondo tallied a takedown less than five seconds into the first period and registered nearly three minutes of riding time by the end of the first three-minute session. He shut out Blackwell 9-0 in the third period, nearly pinning him twice.
After the meet, McFarland didn’t understand why Biondo, who leads the Wolverines with three falls this season, is still unnoticed in a wrestling community that has already anointed Russell (12-0) the next in a long line of wrestling phenoms to come through Ann Arbor.
“It was great to see another freshman that not everybody is really talking about in Anthony Biondo,” McFarland said. “That (win) was huge too, because we knew they were stronger at some of the upper weights. He’s done a tremendous job for us.”
Despite the clinic Biondo put on in front of the crowd of 651 fans, it’s become increasingly difficult to divert the attention from Russell. The High Bridge, N.J. native has now defeated four nationally-ranked opponents and is the first true freshman from Michigan to win his first four dual matches since three-time All-American Andy Hrovat in 1999.