As it continues to plow through a challenging Big Ten schedule, the No. 8 Michigan wrestling team faced two difficult opponents over the weekend, taking on Northwestern at home on Friday and Penn State in Happy Valley on Sunday.
Both Michigan and Penn State arrived with undefeated records in the Big Ten and possess multiple wrestlers capable of competing—and succeeding—at the National Championships in March. Facing Penn State’s bulldozing lineup, which featured four top-ranked wrestlers, the Wolverines struggled, losing all but two of the matchups.
The Wolverines were, however, unwilling to go quietly. Sophomore Garrett Sutton, unranked and facing the No. 17 wrestler in his weight class, 165 pounds, took a close one-point loss after asserting himself with an early lead. Though his opponent, Shakur Rasheed, worked his way back to a tie, it took a riding time point for the Wolverine to earn the win.
“He did a nice job,” McFarland said. “He needs to work on bottoms. He gave up a riding time point, but I thought that he did a nice job of competing hard. Garrett just wasn’t able to get to his feet from the bottom position.”
Pantaleo, facing the top-ranked wrestler at 149 pounds, Zain Retherford, put together a decent outing. Though McFarland mentioned that Pantaleo was disappointed with his performance, the sophomore, who mentioned Friday that he felt confident about the match, held his own against Retherford.
Junior Adam Coon was, as he has been all year, a bright spot for the Wolverines in an otherwise dim outing. He scored a major decision over unranked Jan Johnson and exhibited a level of tactical skill that was indicative of his improving status on the national stage.
“I thought he did a great job,” McFarland said. “He wrestled hard and put together some different attacks, which is always good to see. He had some good upper body stuff, and was mixing it up well. It was good to see him get those attacks off.”
Friday’s match against a rebuilding Northwestern squad went much differently. The Wolverines dominated the first half of the meet, scoring two pins and a major decision at the 184, heavyweight and 174 categories, respectively. Redshirt freshman Davonte Mahomes, ranked 13th at 174, shut down Northwestern’s Mitch Sliga. Minutes later, Domenic Abounader, eighth-best in the nation at 184, took down his opponent, Regis Durbin, in under two minutes.
Fourth-ranked Adam Coon, Michigan’s heavyweight brawler, needed just 40 seconds to defeat Conan Jennings, finishing out the half. Coon, in particular, felt that his victory was another step toward his championships dreams.
“A national championship is the goal, for sure,” Coon said. “If I wrestle the way that I’m supposed to wrestle and keep training the way I am, there’s no reason that I can’t be at the top of the podium. I just have to make sure that I’m focused. I was focused today.”
The lone competitive match of the half occurred between sixth-year senior Max Huntley and Northwestern’s Jacob Berkowitz. Huntley, who is undefeated on the season, needed a riding time point and a late escape to earn the victory.
Michigan coach Joe McFarland emphasized after the match that Huntley showed great poise, given the man he was wrestling.
“That kid’s hard to wrestle,” McFarland said. “He’s a little unorthodox at times, and I think that threw Max off a little bit. I was happy with the way that he wrestled, though. He kept fighting through positions, made some adjustments and got a nice win.”
In the second half of what was an otherwise unspectacular meet, the match at 149 pounds pitted Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo against Northwestern’s best wrestler, Jason Tsirtsis. After two back-and-forth periods, the Wildcat took advantage of Pantaleo’s apparent finishing issues and gained the upper hand, earning a takedown in the overtime period to secure a win.
“It went back and forth, and he just missed on the finish in overtime,” McFarland said. “Those two had never competed against each other before, and he’s looking forward to a rematch. He made a few mistakes, and he knows that. Against a guy like him, you just can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes. But it was a great match, and as I told Alec, it was a great, great effort.”