For the past four weeks, the Michigan wrestling team has been consistently inconsistent. The tenth-ranked Wolverines have struggled to find stability as the dual-meet season winds down. Before traveling to Madison to take on the Badgers (3-3 Big Ten, 12-4-1 overall), Michigan’s previous four matches had the same pattern: starting and ending with individual losses.
And Friday night transpired in similar fashion. The Wolverines found themselves in an early hole and couldn’t recover, falling to 13th-ranked Wisconsin, 20-18. It was Michigan’s fifth defeat in the last seven dual meets.
For the 10th consecutive meet, the Wolverines went down in the opening two matches. With Michigan trailing 7-0, the Wolverines’ middleweights spearheaded a comeback by taking five of the next six bouts. Redshirt junior captain Tyrel Todd capped the rally with his fifth pin of the season at 184 pounds.
Just five days after his 21-match winning streak ended in Columbus, the All-American notched a single-leg takedown in the first period and maintained control over Justin Peterson along the edge of the mat. Todd forced the fifth-year senior on his back with just two seconds left in the period, tallying six team points and finishing an 18-3 Michigan run.
But the 18-10 lead with two matches left wasn’t enough of a cushion. As quickly as the Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 15-7 overall) snatched momentum, Wisconsin’s No. 8 junior Dallas Herbst took it back. Herbst stormed out of the gate at 197 pounds, pinning No. 14 Anthony Biondo just 1:17 into the match. Herbst’s 43rd career pin brought the Badgers within two.
Biondo is now 1-2 since coming back from an injury against Purdue on Jan. 25, but Michigan coach Joe McFarland attributed the redshirt freshman’s recent struggles to the quality of his opponents.
“He just got caught last night,” McFarland said. “You can’t afford to give up a cradle to a guy like (Herbst).”
Despite holding a late two-point lead, Michigan found itself in a worst-case scenario.
The final match at heavyweight pitted redshirt freshman Chad Bleske, still looking for his first conference win, against Wisconsin’s fourth-ranked Kyle Massey. Massey cruised to an 11-0 major decision, handing Bleske his eighth straight loss and the Badgers the victory.
On Sunday night, Michigan lost to Iowa 20-16 in almost a carbon copy of Friday.
Watts and Diehl, the lightweights at 125 and 133 pounds, each lost again, and Iowa had an early 8-0 lead.
Michigan was up 16-12 with two matches left, but Biondo lost 2-1.
With Michigan up 16-15, it came down to the heavyweights, and Bleske lost 20-5, giving Iowa five team points and the win 20-16.
But the Wolverines’ recent troubles have consistently been with the lightweights.
Junior Michael Watts battled No. 19 senior Collin Cudd to a 4-4 tie after two periods before Cudd opened the floodgates in the third frame, scoring a reversal, a takedown and 1:45 of riding time in a 9-5 decision.
Sophomore Chris Diehl then suffered a 14-1 major decision to No. 11 junior Zach Tanelli in the ensuing match. Watts and Diehl are a combined 3-8 in conference competition.
“They’re lacking a little confidence right now, and it’s been tough on them (this year),” McFarland said. “They’re not fighting through their positions tough enough. That’s how you win big matches – being tough and having a lot of grit.”