The odds were stacked against him.
Appearing in his first ever Cliff Keen Invitational, unranked true freshman Kellen Russell played his cards just right and gave everyone at the Las Vegas Convention Center quite a pleasant surprise.
Through the course of the two-day invitational, Russell knocked off the third, fifth and ninth- ranked wrestlers in his weight class, claiming the 141-pound title in the process.
“He really made a name for himself this weekend,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “The way he came in as a true freshman and beat some of the top-ranked guys in his weight class was pretty impressive.”
Russell’s outstanding performance was one of many in No. 5 Michigan’s first-place finish.
Sitting in third place heading into the final round, the Wolverines shot to the top of the scoreboard in the championship round, finishing with 127.5 points and edging second-place No. 7 Missouri by 2.5 points.
“We were battling back all weekend,” McFarland said. “We talked all week that we wanted to come out here and win the tournament.”
The Wolverines got their ammunition from three first-place performances from their four finalists.
Senior Eric Tannenbaum grabbed his second 165-pound title of the year at the tournament. Tannenbaum escaped a takedown in the third period and also added 1:08 in riding time.
“We did a good job of staying aggressive and kept attacking,” senior Eric Tannenbaum said. “(We were) setting the pace (and) staying on top of our opponents. We did a really good job of that throughout the entire tournament.”
Michigan secured its first-place trophy with Tyrell Todd’s 184-pound championship victory in overtime over top-seeded Mike Puccillo of Ohio State. The Buckeye sophomore reversed Todd in the final minutes of the third period, but Todd earned an escape and tied the score to force overtime. In the extra period, Todd was the aggressor, winning with a single-leg takedown.
One Wolverine who missed the championship round was Josh Churella. The fifth-year senior finished fifth overall after two tough second-day losses.
Despite Churella’s mediocre performance, the early-season victory showcased the Wolverines’ strength and depth competing against some of the top teams in the country and many Big Ten programs including Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
“As a team, we know that we have the ability to be the top team (in the Big Ten), if not the top team in the country,” Todd said. “We put together a pretty good tournament overall. We’re excited and just looking forward to keep on improving.”
Michigan will kick off its home season with a dual meet against Kent State Dec. 7 at Cliff Keen Arena.