The Michigan wrestling team is going to have a huge hole to fill at the 197-pound weight class come next season. Sixth-year senior Max Huntley wrestled his last regular-season match Friday night at Cliff Keen Arena, winning against Purdue’s Drake Stein with an impressive 16-1 technical fall.
Huntley is in his third season as a captain for the Wolverines, a first in Michigan wrestling history. He is undefeated in dual meets this season, along with his upperweight teammates and fellow captains, juniors Adam Coon and Domenic Abounader.
Huntley’s bout was highlighted by an early 10-1 lead before the end of the first period, which allowed him to add two more single-leg takedowns to end the match with 40 seconds remaining in the third period.
“I was pretty confident,” Huntley said. “The only thing I was worried about was that Adam (Coon) was going to get a pin, because I’m leading the pin count for the team. You get an award at the end of the year, and if Adam would have gotten a pin, it would’ve been tied, so I’m not too upset about that.”
Despite Michigan coach Joe McFarland’s jokes about bringing him back for a seventh season, Huntley will finish his collegiate career this March. The sixth-year wrestler participated in the Senior Night ceremony last year before the NCAA granted him eligibility for another season, but he was not keen on walking through it again.
“When I wasn’t there yesterday, they took a team vote to see if I should get off the hook,” Huntley said. “I guess I lost the vote by a huge mass decision. But I made an agreement with (McFarland) that he would have to walk out with me at least, but he hoodwinked me and didn’t go out there. He had a pretty good laugh.”
McFarland has had ample opportunity to get to know his oldest team member. Throughout his time at Michigan, Huntley has accumulated five varsity letters and 78 wins for the Wolverines.
“He’s going to be a hard one to replace, I’ll be honest,” McFarland said. “Anytime you get a guy like that that’s got all that experience and has wrestled really well for you, you hate losing those guys.”
But Huntley still has an important postseason to guide his team through. It won’t be his focus or his drive that makes the biggest impact in his opinion, but rather his sense of humor.
“A lot of teams I’ve been on have been very serious,” Huntley said. “We’re in the locker room and everyone is sitting there with brows furrowed. (It’s) tough going through a whole Big Ten season like that. You can ask a lot of guys, I kind of joke around a lot, try to keep it a little lighter. That’s a small thing, but over the course of how long a college season is, I think it does kind of help.”
The Wolverines have followed Huntley’s example of keeping things light, most notably during senior Cody Vanderhagen’s plea for a job offer in his Senior Night introduction. From the looks of Michigan’s 13-2 season, it’s ability to have fun with the sport has worked. Even the pregame meals are a bit of a joke.
“That’s funny because me and (Abounader) eat the exact same meal,” Huntley said. “Every time, both of us eat the exact same thing. It’s such a crappy meal, because it’s bagels and cream cheese dunked in soup, and it doesn’t sound good. But it’s like a Stockholm syndrome where you start to love it. … It’s kind of becoming one of my favorite meals.”
Huntley will be wrestling in the Big Ten championships in two weeks, when he will have an opportunity to better last year’s fifth-place finish. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain: The impact Huntley has made on Michigan wrestling over the past six years will be long-lasting.