Up until Friday night, Will Lewan had done everything asked of him.
By all means, the 157 lb redshirt junior was having a successful season. The thirteenth-ranked Lewan boasted an 11-3 record with ranked victories over No. 19 Elijah Clleary of Pittsburgh and No. 26 Andrew Cerniglia of Navy. Lewan had won all of the matches he was supposed to win — powering himself to a 7-1 dual meet record — and was one of two wrestlers to win against Penn State.
But he hadn’t done more.
There was a certain level of competition against which he plateaued, a certain caliber he couldn’t yet defeat. He had shown that he could wrestle tough matches against highly-ranked opponents, but he had never been able to beat one, always losing in a tight fashion.
In December, Lewan dropped a 6-3 decision to No. 11 Quincy Monday of Princeton. A week ago, against No. 4 Brayton Lee of Minnesota, Lewan scored the first takedown, only to crumble in a 4-3 loss.
Lewan was consistently knocking on the door of higher competition, but found himself having it slammed in his face at the last possible moment each time.
But on Friday, Lewan finally kicked down that door.
He bested No. 5 Peyton Robb 3-1 in overtime and set the tone for his team’s 20-13 victory over Nebraska, proving that he isn’t ready to just keep up with the toughest competition. He’s ready to defeat it.
Lewan often wrestles like an upper weight. His first instinct is to go for snapdowns and headlocks, especially in tighter matches. And true to his style of wrestling, the bout with Robb proved to be a low-scoring, gritty affair.
Robb came out the aggressor, forcing Lewan to fight on the edge of the mat and controlling tie ups in the first period. But despite his energy, Robb couldn’t break through Lewan’s defense. It was clear that despite Robb’s ranking and the hostile crowd, Lewan wasn’t intimidated.
“For big matches, you always have to go in thinking you’re gonna win and trusting your coaches and training and teammates that have pushed you to that point,” Lewan said.
Lewan maneuvered his way out of headlocks and tie-ups, and by the end of the first period, the two were seemingly on an even playing field.
The match may have only featured one takedown, but it wasn’t for a lack of shooting. Both wrestlers initiated leg attacks that the other was able to scramble out of. Twice, Lewan ended up on both knees, hoisting Robb into the air, but both times unable to score as Robb forced a stalemate.
“For me specifically, mindset has been a really big thing for my wrestling,” Lewan said. “The past couple weeks I’ve been focusing on getting in the fight. Not just waiting around for something to happen.”
In the sudden victory period, the intensity only increased. Both Lewan and Robb became less focused on slow attacks and snapdowns, instead both willing to fire off shots and force scrambles. Lewan went first, trying a shot that Robb sprawled out of before Robb returned the favor seemingly winning the match on an ankle pick that Lewan was barely able to spin and scamper away from.
The non-call went to video review, and Lewan waited to see if the match would restart. But even with his night hanging in the balance, he remained unperturbed.
“I never doubted for a second that that match was going to continue,” Lewan said. I knew he didn’t get that takedown. And either way, you can’t give up on yourself that deep in the match. You’ve got to stay focused on what needs to be done to win.”
The non-call was confirmed, and the bout restarted with one thing readily apparent: Robb was tired, and Lewan wasn’t. While the first minutes of the match had been dominated by Robb’s strength, the last two minutes were marked by Lewan’s endurance. Lewan was still shooting, still pushing the pace. Robb wasn’t.
That was the difference.
Late in the sudden victory period, Robb took a weak shot which Lewan easily countered, putting his opponent into a headlock, snapping him down and spinning around a weak arm block to score. With the takedown, Lewan emerged victorious with his biggest victory of the season, proving that he has the capability to move to the next stage.
“It was a good hard-fought win,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “Will did a good job in controlling a lot of the action in that match. He really did a great job keeping his composure, and when it got into the sudden victory, he stayed really tough and gritty and won a hard fought match.”