It took the No. 11 Michigan wrestling team more than eight hours on the bus to get to Cedar Falls, Iowa for the National Duals this past weekend.
But the trip back was much longer for the dejected Wolverines. Michigan was quickly eliminated, losing to No. 6 Iowa State in the opening round (25-15) and No. 20 Nebraska in the consolation bracket (23-13).
Coming off a tie with No. 3 Hofstra in which Michigan almost pulled off the upset, the Wolverines put forth a discouraging performance on Saturday.
“It’s a pretty big disappointment to go 0-2 at the duals,” co-captain Eric Tannenbaum said. “We got a tough time because we didn’t get seeded. It’s always tough to come back as a team after a loss like that (against Iowa State). . But I felt like we could’ve done a better job against Nebraska.”
Starting off the weekend against the Cyclones, Michigan was pushed around early, surrendering two major decisions and a fall in the first three matches. But after jumping out to a convincing 14-0 lead, Iowa State watched as the Wolverines stormed back with a pin by No. 3 Josh Churella (5:48) in the fourth match, followed by three consecutive decisions from No. 4 Tannenbaum (a 3-2 upset over No. 2 Travis Paulson in the 165-pound weight class), No. 8 Steve Luke (174 pounds) and No. 4 Tyrel Todd (184 pounds).
With the score at 17-15, the Maize and Blue were poised for a possible comeback, just to fall short in the final two matches.
“We didn’t get off to a good start, and they got a little momentum on their side,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We beat some of the top individuals, but we were overmatched as a team.”
Michigan’s ranked wrestlers were undefeated at the tournament and carried the squad, but heavyweight Omar Maktabi was the lone unranked Wolverine to win.
Whereas last weekend the Wolverines matched up well with Hofstra, Michigan’s lack of depth proved to be its Achilles’ heel against a strong Iowa State lineup. The problem was magnified when the Wolverines lost Luke for a couple weeks because of a sprained medial collateral ligament he suffered in the day’s first match.
“We seem to struggle against these well-balanced teams,” McFarland said. “We’re not as balanced as we’ve been in the past.”
Hoping to bounce back against Nebraska in the afternoon, the Wolverines instead struggled mentally.
Posting two major decisions and a fall, the Cornhuskers never let Michigan within eight points, though the national rankings would have predicted a considerably different outcome.
“I think most of it was mental,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s just getting over that mental hump of knowing what you’re capable of. . People are just a little hesitant and scared that they’re going to make a mistake.”
The team, on the whole, is struggling to translate what it’s learning on the practice mat to its meets, Tannenbaum said.
The home setting of the Hofstra meet camouflaged Michigan’s focus problems, but now the flaw must be addressed.
With Big Ten competition approaching, the Wolverines hope McFarland can get them back on track during the two-week break before facing No. 2 Minnesota on Jan. 26.