The Wolverines felt right at home in Las Vegas.
The No. 3 Michigan wrestling team was at the top of its game last weekend, winning the team title at the Cliff Keen Invitational for the second straight year with a score of 145 points. Cornell remained within striking distance of Michigan after day one, but fell short and finished with 116 points. The tournament featured 50 teams -10 of which were nationally ranked entering the weekend.
It’s fitting that the Maize and Blue found success at an invitational named after former Michigan standout coach Cliff Keen and organized by members of the Churella family – a family rich in Wolverine wrestling tradition.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Churella and his brother, redshirt sophomore Josh Churella, lived up to their family name by winning individual titles Saturday in the 161-pound and 141-pound classes, respectively. Fifth-year senior Greg Wagner and redshirt freshman Steve Luke also took first in the heavyweight and 157-pound classes. Ryan Churella and Wagner successfully defended their individual titles from last year’s tournament.
“I was happy with the team effort,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “They were aggressive and tough and scored lots of points.”
Ryan Churella’s performance earned him the accolade of most outstanding wrestler of the tournament.
“It’s definitely something I recognize and appreciate,” he said. “It’s a kind of cool thing coming here and winning this tournament that I grew up around and that my dad runs.”
Despite Churella’s dominance, it was Luke who made the biggest strides on Saturday. In his first tournament as a member of Michigan’s starting lineup, he reeled off six straight victories, including a win in the finals over Alex Tirapelle from Illinois, the top-ranked wrestler nationally in the weight class.
“My offense wasn’t very good,” Luke said. “But (Tirapelle) is a very defensive wrestler, and it was a very defensive match.”
Both Luke and Tirapelle made escapes for one point each during regulation, but neither could mount a takedown. In the first tiebreaker they once again traded points, setting up a 3-3 score heading into the second round. It soon became clear that the match would be decided on riding time rather than points. If Luke could make a quick escape, he would have a chance to win. Early in the second overtime, he did just that.
“I knew I had to escape,” Luke said. “Right when the whistle blew, I exploded. He slipped and I got away.”
Luke finished with a four-second advantage in riding time, winning the match and the individual title.
“It was a big confidence builder for him,” McFarland said. “He beat some of the best wrestlers in the country.”
All four Michigan competitors who made it to the finals emerged victorious.
Redshirt sophomore Eric Tannenbaum also performed well, finishing fourth in the 149-pound class.
“This is just a great start for us and a confidence booster as a team,” McFarland said. “But we can’t get full of ourselves as it’s still early in the season.”
The Wolverines return to Ann Arbor to face No. 12 Nebraska on Friday.