On Friday, the No. 3 Michigan wrestling team faced its biggest challenge of its dual meet season, and it came out flat.
After the emotionally draining dual meet loss to No. 1 Penn State, the Wolverines came into Sunday’s dual meet against No. 13 Rutgers in need of an injection of energy.
Luckily for the team, there are almost no wrestlers better at providing that energy than No. 1 graduate student and former Scarlet Knight Nick Suriano.
Suriano opened the dual meet for the Wolverines against Rutgers’ Dylan Shawver with a demonstration of everything that Michigan had lacked in its loss on Friday. Suriano pounded Shawver’s head with snapdowns, controlled tie-ups and — most importantly — found ways to score on top, earning a pair of four point nearfall counts, including one coming late via an armbar to secure a technical fall.
Suriano gave the Wolverines (6-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) an outline for how to improve, and the rest of the team followed suit, looking dominant en-route to a 32-8 victory over the Scarlet Knights (12-4, 2-4).
“I’ll tell you one thing,” 197-lb graduate student Pat Brucki said. “Michigan wrestling is lucky and grateful to have Nick Suriano. He’s making an impact. He brings a certain level of maturity and experience and success that we strive for.”
In close, low scoring matches, Michigan found ways to emerge victorious, and in matches clearly in their favor, they maximized points. To be fair, Rutgers is not nearly the caliber of opponent that Penn State was. But in terms of responding to an outing where they looked outmatched, Sunday’s dual is everything that the Wolverines could have asked for.
“It was definitely a better job tonight,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “It was important to the guys, they wanted to bounce back and have a strong performance and to show improvement in those areas for themselves and for the team.”
Following Suriano’s victory, No. 8 redshirt freshman Dylan Ragusin added to the team’s score by earning a decision victory over the Scarlet Knights’ No. 20 Joey Olivieri. The match consisted mostly of hand fighting, but Ragusin made the most of it, scoring the bout’s only takedown off of a duck-under from a tie up.
At 141 lbs and 149 lbs, respectively, Michigan suffered two straight losses as redshirt freshman Chris Kim and redshirt sophomore Pat Nolan filled in for the Wolverines regular starters, graduate student Stevan Micic and redshirt sophomore Cole Mattin, both out with health issues.
Through four matches, the teams were tied. But in the upper weights, the Wolverines hit their stride. That’s where the biggest difference between the two teams could be seen.
On Friday, none of the Michigan’s upperweights won a match. On Sunday, none of them lost.
The upperweights came out with energy and found ways to score in tight matches that could have gone either way, and that translated to win after win.
At 165 lbs, redshirt sophomore Cameron Amine showed tenacity, scoring a decisive takedown late in the second period which would lead him to victory. At 174 lbs graduate student Logan Massa looked dominant coming off of a match where he failed to score a takedown. Massa scored point after point before putting the exclamation point on the bout by pinning Rutgers’ Connor O’Neill with a tilt transitioned to a half-nelson to earn six team points.
However, the Wolverines’ biggest victory of the afternoon, even though it was worth just three points, came at 197 lbs, where No. 8 Brucki narrowly defeated No. 6 Greg Bulsak, 4-2, in overtime.
The win barely impacted the afternoon’s final score, but it gave the team a moral victory. After five narrow losses on Friday, Brucki’s victory demonstrated that the team can win tight matches against big opponents, but that it requires a stronger mentality.
“I’ve got a couple of overtime losses this season,” Brucki said. “And right before the overtime, (assistant coach Kevin Jackson) came up to me and said, ‘make up your mind.’ I really think it is that simple, I just needed to make up my mind.”
Michigan’s victory, while important for its morale, doesn’t say much about its future. But the dual meet was the first chance for the Wolverines to refocus and begin improving the weaknesses that Penn State exposed.
“There’s still a lot of work we have to do in those areas that we’re lacking, but they’re really clear,” Bormet said. “They’re clear to the staff, and they’re clear to the guys. And I think they’re ready to really dig in and continue to make gains.”
As Suriano said: “Sometimes you have a bad performance, and you’re not happy with your results, so you deal with it.”