BLOOMINGTON – After sitting atop the standings for the entire conference season, the Michigan wrestling team was only able to finish third at this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.
The second-ranked Wolverines – who took third for the second straight year – posted a score of 115 points, behind Illinois’ 125 and champion Minnesota’s 138.
“We would’ve liked to have done a little bit better,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “We wrestled hard, and we lost some tough matches.”
Despite the disappointing place, nine of Michigan’s 10 starters qualified for nationals by finishing in the top seven in their weight class.
Most notable was senior co-captain Ryan Churella’s championship in the 165-pound weight class. It was his second straight conference title at 165, but his third overall.
In the final, Churella faced off against Minnesota’s Matt Nagel, who Churella forced into five stalling violations en route to a disqualification in February. Once again, Churella set the pace from the start and dominated Nagel in his 7-0 win.
“I made sure I was attacking in all my matches, and I was able to come out on top,” he said.
Churella won all three of his matches during the weekend, improving to 25-0 on the year.
Fellow senior and co-captain Greg Wagner made the finals as well. But the Fort Wayne, Ind. native wasn’t able to pull through, and was defeated 6-1 by top-ranked Cole Konrad of Minnesota. The match was wrestled very defensively, and the two standouts entered overtime tied at one apiece. Wagner almost mounted a takedown in the extra session but was caught out of position, and taken to the mat where Konrad held him in the near-fall position for three seconds. The five-point sequence ended the match, leaving Wagner in the runner-up position.
“(Wagner) gave Konrad a great match.” McFarland said. “He’s getting closer and closer to beating him.”
Redshirt sophomores Eric Tannenbaum and Josh Churella had big expectations coming into the tournament, after both won individual titles at last year’s conference tournament. Neither matched last year’s success.
Tannenbaum was the No. 3 seed in the 149-pound class but was stunned in his first match by unseeded Troy Tirapelle of Illinois. Tannenbaum finished a disappointing fifth after a forfeit victory over Ohio State’s J Jaggers.
Josh Churella garnered the top seed in the 141-pound class and looked strong in his first two matches Saturday, outscoring his opponents 14-0. But he fell short in his semi final match against Northwestern’s Ryan Lang. Churella ended up fourth after Alex Tsirtsis, the No. 2 seed from Iowa, defeated him in the third-place bout.
Like Josh Churella, redshirt freshman Steve Luke, redshirt junior Mark Moos and fifth-year senior Willie Breyer all took fourth.
Still, Breyer was a pleasant surprise for the Maize and Blue. Not normally part of the starting lineup, he was named the starter at 197 in place of injured Casey White on Thursday.
Breyer’s weekend didn’t start off well. He was pinned in his first match, immediately demoting him to the loser’s bracket. But the veteran rebounded with three straight wins, including a pin of his own. He eventually fell to the No. 3 seed Matt Delguyd of Northwestern, but his finish qualified him for what will be his first and last NCAA Championships.
“My first match I was really nervous,” Breyer said. “I lost and thought, well I’ll just go for it. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.”
Also qualifying for the Wolverines were redshirt freshman Tyrel Todd at 184 and true freshman Michael Watts in the 125-pound class. Todd knocked off the sixth-seeded No. 6 seed Mike Tamillow of Northwestern on his way to a fifth-place showing. Watts pulled off a dramatic pin in the first period of his seventh-place match against Ohio State’s Nathan Costello.
Redshirt junior Nick Roy – the lone Michigan wrestler not to qualify for nationals – suffered a season-ending knee injury in his second match Saturday and had to forfeit his remaining bouts.
Michigan had big performances from several wrestlers but had sub-par outings in a few classes.
“The key (to winning) a Big Ten Championship is having everybody firing in the same weekend,” McFarland said. “We weren’t able to do that.”