YPSILANTI — In its first preseason meet, the Michigan wrestling team’s freshmen were given the opportunity to show their potential.
Competing unattached in the Eastern Michigan Open on Saturday, the Wolverines sent a group of younger wrestlers to Bowen Field House. Michigan faced smaller schools and Big Ten teams, including Purdue and Michigan State.
“It’s definitely a new experience for our freshmen,” assistant coach Mike Kulczycki said. “It’s good for the beginning of the year just to see where we’re at.”
Michigan finished with seven place winners at the non-scoring event, which head coach Joe McFarland did not attend. Freshman Zac Stevens (133 pounds) advanced to a semifinal bout, while redshirt sophomore Eddie Phillips beat teammates Ben Apland and Chad Bleske in the consolation round to finish in fourth place as a heavyweight.
In the preseason unattached meets, the Wolverines vie for starting spots in their respective weight classes for the upcoming season. Beating a teammate, as Phillips did, helps a wrestler make a case for a starting spot.
Stevens was up 7-2 midway through the second period in his semifinal bout against Purdue’s Jake Fleckenstein when he fell victim to several takedowns, finishing the period up 8-6. In the final period, Stevens ran out of gas and fell to Fleckenstein, 12-9.
“Zac set the tone right away in the first period,” Kulczycki said. “He scored a lot of take downs and pushed the pace, and I think he kind of wore himself out a little bit, but it is a learning experience. He’ll have to learn how to dictate the pace and learn how to keep a lead.”
Stevens went on to overpower Navy’s Joey Boone, 5-2, in an impressive performance. On two separate occasions, Stevens picked Boone up from behind and slammed him to the ground to record takedowns, a feat that elicited reactions from the crowd. He would go on to finish fourth, but knows he still must adjust to the level of competition in collegiate wrestling.
“In high school, I was used to dominating everybody,” Stevens said. “Here it was just a grind every match.”
Phillips, one of the more experienced wrestlers competing for Michigan, had some success as a heavyweight last year, but looks for a breakout season after adding some weight during the offseason.
Phillips finished 4-2 on the day, beating both of his teammates, but losing two matches to Pittsburgh’s Ryan Tomei.
Phillips and Stevens have one more unattached meet Sunday at the Michigan State Open. Starting spots will be determined in wrestle-offs during the Maize and Blue Intrasquad a week later. Phillips’s victories over his teammates count toward the two-of-three series needed to become a starter in a certain weight class.
“Obviously we want to be Big Ten champs and National Champs, but we are just going to take it week by week,” Kulczycki said. “We are going to have some younger guys stepping into the lineup and some experienced guys too, that could be right in the mix.”