The No. 3 Michigan wrestling team entered Sunday’s dual at Cliff Keen Arena against No. 14 Wisconsin expecting to easily handle its competition in its conference home opener. But few outside 125-pound wrestler Jack Medley expected the Wolverines to start out so strong.
The graduate wrestler entered Sunday’s match looking for his fourth straight dual win after his 6-3 decision over Michigan State’s No. 25 Tristan Lujan Friday night. But Sunday’s dual as an underdog against No. 5 Eric Barnett posed a stiffer challenge.
“Coming into the match, I was pretty relaxed,” Medley said. “Another opponent, another guy. (I) had a good match Friday night. I feel like I’m getting better every match. I don’t look at the rankings or anything like that. I just focus on myself.”
Medley, now in his sixth season, was tasked with monumental shoes to fill: Replacing last season’s NCAA 125-pound champion Nick Suriano. As a result, Medley only appeared in 10 duals last season and had to wait in the wings behind his championship-winning teammate.
As Medley waited his turn, he continued to be a team player throughout his long journey at Michigan.
Now in the spotlight, Medley began the first period down 2-0 after an early takedown by Barnett, but he scored a key reversal to knot the score and turn the tides before the end of the period.
“After that reversal at the end of the first period, I felt the momentum swing in my direction,” Medley said.
And that momentum was palpable inside Cliff Keen Arena, with both the crowd and team buzzing for Medley’s early effort against such a talented opponent.
“You could see about halfway through that match momentum was shifting,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “Jack’s really good in all three positions, so when he got that reversal I could see the momentum shifting.”
But the turning of the tides did not fully manifest itself in the scoreline until the third period. He earned a reversal, which led to a riveting four-point near fall after putting Barnett on his back as well as two takedowns in the period, powering him to a 12-6 decision.
“He stayed in a lot of tough positions, wrestled through everything, and he made the Wisconsin kid continue to wrestle the entire match,” Bormet said. “… He did a great job staying dominant in that third period, and he’s just continuing to gain confidence and continue to build his wrestling attacks back up.”
Sunday’s win, in multiple ways, serves as a culmination of the work ethic and fortitude Medley has displayed over his six seasons for Michigan.
Despite his individual accolades such finishing fourth in the Big Ten at 125-pounds in the 2019-20 season and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled due to Covid-19, his team-first attitude stood out the most.
“Jack Medley’s a guy that’s like a backbone to a team,” Bormet said. “Just incredible work ethic, incredible consistency, incredible commitment to the team: team first. And he’s been that way from the time he got here as a freshman. So he’s so well-respected by the entire team, doesn’t matter what grade, so well respected.”
Having the respect and support of one’s teammates can go a long way. Taking that enthusiasm into meaningful results that set the tone for a team goes even further.
This year, relishing his valuable role on the team, Medley is enjoying defining moments like his upset against Barnett.
“I’m just staying present in the moment, not really focusing on it being my last year,” Medley said. “Just being present and being grateful for every time I can represent the University of Michigan and step on that mat.”
The season is still relatively young, and Medley and the Wolverines realize that all of their goals still in front of them. Heading to State College on Friday to battle No. 1 Penn State, they’ll hope to keep their undefeated record intact.
And for Medley, it will provide another chance to prove himself on a big stage.