There could be a changing of the guard in collegiate wrestling. This weekend, Michigan showed the rest of the country that the old powerhouses may be just that old.
“We”re an up and coming program, and it”s fun to be a part of this program,” 141-pounder Clark Forward said.
The Wolverines may continue their recent rise in the polls after destroying No. 22 Wisconsin, 37-4 on Saturday night. On Friday, the Wolverines used an extreme home advantage to defeat defending national champion Iowa, 18-16.
Against Wisconsin, the Wolverines won nine of 10 weight classes the only Badger victory came from defending NCAA champion Donny Prtizlaff at 165 pounds.
Coach Joe McFarland was worried about the Wisconsin match after the Wolverines” emotional win against third-ranked Iowa. With a significantly smaller crowd and a middle-of-the-pack team, there was a dangerous chance for a letdown.
“These guys really responded well. I think that”s just a reflection on what kind of guys they are and what kind of kids we have on this team,” McFarland said.
The victory over the Badgers was the dessert for the Wolverines, who devoured Iowa in a match eerily similar to the teams” first match two weeks ago at the National Duals.
In that match, Iowa leapt out to a 16-0 lead and then held off a late charge by Michigan to win 20-18.
Friday, it was Michigan that came out of the gates quickly with five consecutive victories, securing an 18-0 lead going into intermission.
The Wolverines benefited from a nearly perfect draw of the weight classes, beginning with 165 pounds right after the five best weights for the Hawkeyes.
Junior Charles Martelli won the opening match, 6-2, over Matt Anderson, causing an explosion from the 2,050 fans packed into tiny Cliff Keen Arena capacity 1,800.
“Starting off on the right foot was huge,” Martelli said.
Cliff Keen Arena was nearly a fire hazard for the showdown with the Hawkeyes. Hundreds were grouped, standing, in a roped-off area normally reserved for the wrestlers to use for warm-ups.
The noise was deafening, but Michigan had no complaints.
“Having everybody root for you makes you block out your lungs burning, your legs burning and be like, “These fans came to watch wrestling, and I”m going to show them some wrestling,”” Forward said.
“It was fantastic. It”s a great arena for wrestling the atmosphere, the crowd”s right on top of the mat,” McFarland said. “There were times I couldn”t hear myself talk.”
After intermission, Michigan held Iowa”s superstar low weights to minor decisions, with Foley Dowd losing 12-5 to No. 1 Eric Juergens at 133 and Forward losing only 9-8 to No. 1 Doug Schwab.
Forward actually led, 8-5, in the third period, and the crowd reached a volume that nearly made the walls shake.
Though Schwab won the match, the Wolverines had regained any momentum the three victories could have given Iowa.
Mike Kulczycki lost a heartbreaker to Mike Zadick at 149 pounds when Zadick escaped with 8 seconds remaining in the sudden victory overtime period.
“Nobody knows this, but Mike (Kulczycki) was sick tonight. I was really worried about sending him out there,” McFarland said. “He got out there and wrestled his heart out for seven minutes, and that”s a tribute to how tough he is.”
Pat Owen needed only to avoid being pinned in his match with No. 1 T.J. Williams of Iowa. Though Owen only lost in a minor decision, he was still disappointed.
“It was bittersweet. I didn”t know whether to be excited after the whistle blew or to be disappointed,” Owen said. “But it was exciting for the team to get the win.”
With enthusiastic crowds like the one on Friday night, Michigan believes it is only a matter of time before it strikes the same fear into its opponents as the traditional wrestling powerhouses.