The Sweet 16 was nothing but sour for the Michigan wrestling team.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines participated in at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals this weekend. The Duals take 16 of the nation’s top teams and pit them against each other in a tournament bracket.
But Michigan was relegated to the consolation bracket early in the competition after a 23-9 loss to third-ranked Cornell in the first round.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “That’s one thing I think we need to make a big improvement on. We’re not getting our shots off, and we’re not going out there with the intent on scoring right away in some of our matches, and often times, that can be the difference.”
The Wolverines tried to make the best of their drop to the consolation bracket with a convincing 29-10 win over host No. 21 Northern Iowa. But two hours later, their hopes of a comeback were dashed in a loss to Big Ten rival No. 14 Penn State. It was disappointing end for Michigan after finishing third at last year’s tournament.
The Wolverines trailed Penn State by as many as 12 points but stormed back to tie it at 18 heading into the final bout. An unnecessary roughness penalty in the closing minutes sealed Michigan’s fate and the Wolverines left the tournament without placing.
“We probably should have won that (last) match,” sophomore Kellen Russell said. “I think when we wrestle them in the Big Ten season, we’ll be a lot more confident than we were maybe going into that match.”
Ranked fourth nationally in his weight class, Russell was one of the few bright spots for the Wolverines. Along with senior Steve Luke, Russell led the team with a 3-0 record. Russell also extended his overall win streak to nine.
“The matches I lost (this season) I shouldn’t have lost,” Russell said. “So I think my win streak should be longer than that. I think it is just about being mentally prepared for all of our matches, just going out and getting the first takedown.”
The High Bridge, N.J., native’s wins came in three close matches. His widest margin of victory was just three points.
Against Penn State’s Frank Molinaro, Russell almost saw his win streak stop at eight. After an uneventful seven minutes, the match extended into overtime. Russell scored the pivotal takedown with just 12 seconds remaining on the clock.
“I knew it was going to come down to a takedown,” Russell said. “I knew if I got in on his legs, I was going to be able to take him down. I was able to dive in on a shot and grab one of his legs and bully him over to get the kill.”
After losing two of the most decorated wrestlers in program history in Eric Tannenbaum and Josh Churella, this year’s version of the team has shown some flashes but has come up just short a number of times.
“We just don’t have the same team as we did last year,” McFarland said. “We had opportunities to win that last dual. We lost two one-point matches. We lost an overtime match. We beat Penn State and we’re in reach of third place. As disappointing as it was, we were right there at the same time.”