As the No. 5 Michigan wrestling team headed into intermission trailing 12-3, the struggling Wolverines were waiting for something big.
The 11th-ranked Lehigh Mountain Hawks (5-4-1) had taken down four of the Wolverines’ first five wrestlers in close matches. The roaring home crowd at Cliff Keen Arena didn’t seem to help. It was the perfect time for a team leader to step in and drum up some energy. Sparking a comeback for the 20-15 win over Lehigh, senior captain Ryan Churella delivered what Michigan was begging for.
Notching his 100th career victory, Churella pinned Lehigh’s Dave Nakasone and gave the Wolverines the crucial momentum needed to carry out the win.
Michigan (5-1) won three of the final four bouts that followed Churella’s, including an overtime victory by 174-pound wrestler Nick Roy.
“I just went out there and did what I usually try to do, get as many points as I can, and, fortunately, I was able to get a fall,” Churella said. “Everyone that followed me wrestled really well, so I give them a lot of credit. They were in a hard position with the scoring coming down to 12-12, and they really had to come through with wins.”
Roy was forced into overtime after Mountain Hawk wrestler Travis Frick squeezed out an escape to tie the match at 4-4. A takedown in the sudden victory overtime round gave Roy the win and evened the team score at 12-12.
“In overtime, when he got the leg, I just thought to myself, ‘Don’t give this up, the team needs it,’ ” Roy said. “And I needed it, because it was a big win for me. So I defended it, slipped out of it and got the takedown.”
Resounding wins from 184-pound Tyrel Todd and heavyweight Greg Wagner sealed the victory for the Wolverines. Both wrestlers, along with Churella, are undefeated this season. Churella joined his fellow captain Wagner on the list of 27 Wolverines past and present who have hit the century mark in victories. But to Churella, the milestone was insignificant.
“It’s not really something I look at right now,” Churella said. “It’s something I’ll look back on and appreciate a little more then. Right now, I’m just trying to get these wins in, stay healthy and be ready for Big Tens and Nationals.”
Michigan and Lehigh each won five of the bouts, but it was bonus points that put the Wolverines five points ahead of the Mountain Hawks in the end.
Michigan’s slow start made the victory seem unlikely at first. Three of Michigan’s first four losses were decided by a single point.
“We lost some tough matches,” Roy said. “(Weight classes) 141 through 157 all lost, and those are guys we usually count on. We had to rely on the upper weights.”
Michigan coach Joe McFarland was frustrated with his team’s start – especially because it wasn’t the first time this happened in the past week. Tuesday, the Wolverines had to overcome an early deficit in their victory over Cornell.
“These guys need to understand that they’re going to have to wrestle harder,” McFarland said. “We need to put some things together and stay on these guys. We had a few of these guys on the ropes, and we didn’t take advantage of that. We let them get back into certain positions and let time slip away on us.”
One Mountain Hawk who proved to be a problem for 141-pound Wolverine wrestler Josh Churella may have looked familiar to fans. Cory Cooperman, who defeated the younger Churella 5-3, was featured in an episode of the MTV reality show “True Life: I’m on a Diet.” The show documented Cooperman’s trials in making weight for competition.
But even with a TV star on their team and a nine-point lead, the Mountain Hawks could not compete with the comeback efforts of the Wolverines – who continue to dominate the series between the two teams, 21-11.