ST. LOUIS — There is a belief in college wrestling that anything can happen once the NCAA Championships start. On the first day of this year’s tournament, that theory held true.
In the first and second rounds of the championships, numerous top seeds went down to previously unranked opponents. Luckily for No. 6 Michigan, all of their ranked wrestlers prevailed, and the team finished the first day in sixth place overall.
Freshman Josh Churella almost succumbed to the upset bug in his second-round match. He narrowly defeated unranked Don Fisch of Rider University 10-8 in double overtime.
Churella, the No. 3 seed in the 141-pound weight class, opened the match aggressively, recording two takedowns in the opening minutes, but gave up a takedown and a reversal to Fisch later.
After the match, Churella conceded that he had been suffering from a chest cold and that the cold had affected his stamina during the match. Churella used nearly all of his injury time during the match due to his weakened condition.
In overtime, Churella looked like he got his second wind. Although he was unable to get a takedown during the one-minute sudden death period, he was the aggressor throughout. He nearly got several takedowns but failed to finish any of them.
The match then went to double overtime, where Churella used his momentum from the first overtime and turned Fisch to his back for two near fall points and captured the victory. The win moved him to the quarterfinal round this morning.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win, but you just have to win,” Churella said. “I want to come back strong for the quarterfinals, and hopefully make All-American.”
Junior heavyweight Greg Wagner was also nearly beaten earlier than expected in his second-round match. Against Northwestern’s Dustin Fox, who he defeated 14-1 at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, Wagner could not finish any of his takedowns. The match moved to overtime in a 1-1 tie. Fortunately for Wagner and the Wolverines, he was able to take down Fox with a quick double leg maneuver.
“(Fox) made some adjustments from the last time I faced him,” Wagner said. “You have to take it match by match here because anyone can beat you.”
Churella and Wagner will be joined in the quarterfinal round by freshman Eric Tannenbaum and co-captains Ryan Churella and Ryan Bertin. All three made easy work of their opponents.
“It helps a ton to get through the first day of the tournament easily,” Bertin said. “You get a lot of the nervousness out of your system and get used to the environment here.”
In addition to the wrestlers who qualified by advancing to the quarterfinals, the Wolverines also have sophomores Nick Roy and Mark Moos in the consolation bracket. Sophomore Joshua Weitzel was the only wrestler eliminated on the first day.
“I thought, overall, we had a great day,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We’ve got seven of our eight guys still in the tournament. Our goal is to try and get in the top five, and we want some guys wrestling for national championships. If our guys keep wrestling the way they did today, we’ve got a good shot at accomplishing our goals.”
The NCAA Championships continue throughout the weekend with the championship bouts scheduled for Saturday night.