With the Big Ten Tournament only two weeks away, the No. 3 Michigan wrestling team will receive a much-needed break from its brutal Big Ten schedule in the form of No. 21 Penn State (1-5 Big Ten, 7-11 overall) and Northwestern (0-6, 2-8-1).
After wrestling such national contenders as Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin over the course of the last few weeks, the team “seemed a little fatigued last weekend,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “This week really gives us time to heal up, and I gave them a couple days off from practice.”
A visit from Penn State and a trip to Northwestern provide Michigan with two rare opportunities to pad its record with what should be easy wins.
While nine of Michigan”s weight classes boast nationally-ranked wrestlers, the Nittany Lions and Northwestern counter with only one each. Accordingly, the weekend”s marquee match-ups should take place on Friday night between Penn State”s No. 16 Jeff Knupp and No. 6 Andy Hrovat at 184 pounds and at heavyweight between Northwestern”s No. 16 Josh Saul and No. 4 Matt Brink on Sunday afternoon.
But in light of Hrovat”s and Brink”s performances of late, Knupp and Saul should not provide any obstacle.
After thoroughly dominating Iowa”s ninth-ranked Jessman Smith 10-1 two weeks ago, Hrovat lost a hard-fought 6-5 decision to No. 4 Victor Sveda of Indiana. Two days later against Ohio State”s then-No. 16 Anton Talamantes, Hrovat refused to be phased by his loss.
In the final and deciding match of the afternoon, Hrovat earned a 13-5 major decision to cement a 20-18 Wolverine victory, and Knupp will be hard-pressed to fare better than Hrovat”s last 16th-ranked opponent.
Against Ohio State”s top-ranked Tommy Rowlands, Brink battled into two overtime periods before suffering his fourth loss of the season in a 4-3 thriller. But to Saul”s chagrin, the rare loss will only spur Brink to attack his next opponent even more ferociously.
To McFarland, the weekend”s significance lies in the tune-up for the postseason that it provides.
“I really like where we”re at right now,” McFarland said of his team”s national standing. “We”ve had a great year so far, and now we want to finish the dual meet season strong with these two matches.
“We really want to get as many guys through the Big Ten Tournament as possible,” McFarland said. “To see as many of our guys achieve their potential individually as we can.”
And, most importantly, as McFarland said, “Winning these gives us the momentum we need.”