Entering its second Big Ten dual meet of the season, the No. 3 ranked Michigan wrestling team carried the weight of expectations on its shoulders.
As evidenced by their ranking, the Wolverines were held in high regard by their NCAA peers. They had dispatched every team they faced prior to Sunday’s matchup, including two wins over top-25 teams. But they had never wrestled a team as highly ranked as No. 14 Wisconsin, home to three wrestlers ranked in the top five of their respective weight classes.
The dual meet on Sunday offered Michigan a chance to show that it could be not just a good team, but a great team.
Indeed, the Wolverines did just that. Michigan (7-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) resoundingly beat Wisconsin (6-3, 0-2), 27-6, lending credence to the idea that this team might just have the opportunity to fulfill its lofty preseason goal of a national championship.
“You want to see the team and the individuals continue to move in the right direction as you’re progressing through the season,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “And it was clear we made a huge jump in two really important areas.”
Throughout the dual meet, the Wolverines showcased their endurance. First, graduate student Jack Medley kicked off the night going pound for pound with Wisconsin’s No. 5 Eric Barnett in the 125-pound weight class. Barnett, the favorite, drew first blood with a two point takedown, but Medley kept it close after the first two periods. In the third period, Medley exploded with takedown after takedown, each one raising the decibel level in Cliff Keen Arena. Medley won 12-6, opening the night with a stunning upset and a 3-0 Michigan lead.
“About halfway through that match momentum was shifting,” coach Sean Bormet said. “… He did a great job staying dominant in that third period and he’s just continuing to gain confidence.”
Medley agreed with his coach’s sentiment. After the match, he expressed confidence that once he had the momentum, the contest was his to lose.
“Coming into the match I was pretty relaxed,” Medley said. “Like coach Kevin Jackson says, the floodgates will open, and the floodgates opened.”
The Wolverines continued to close out matches in the third period as the night went on. In the 141-pound match, redshirt junior No. 23 Cole Mattin took on No. 24 Joseph Zargo. Despite many attacks, the first period lacked any points or riding time. However, Mattin parlayed a third period reversal into a takedown, all but locking up the win.
While both wrestlers had been in lock step throughout the first two periods, it was Mattin who eroded his opponent’s strength and earned the win’s three points. The persistence of the Michigan wrestlers was a point of emphasis for Bormet.
“The guys did a great job,” Bormet said. “… Those dominant third periods paid off because we had a high attack rate earlier in the bout.”
Heading into the most anticipated matchup of the meet, the Wolverines were up 13-3. In the process, they had handily won the matches they were expected to, pulled off an upset and made potentially lopsided matchups closer than expected. And as the 165-pound match between redshirt junior No. 6 Cameron Amine and No. 5 Dean Hamiti kicked off, it was already Michigan’s bout to lose.
Amine and Hamiti started by feeling each other out, waiting for the right time to strike. Eventually, Amine notched a takedown and an escape to go up 3-2.
With 40 seconds left and Amine still clinging to his slim one-point lead, the tension in the arena was palpable. Amine attacked with about 10 seconds left, and by the time Hamiti was on the mat, Amine had registered a takedown and rode out the final seconds of the match. Still, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I could score a lot more points,” Amine said. “…I can score three, four more takedowns to separate that gap.”
Amine’s victory highlighted the Wolverines’ ability to pepper their opponents with attacks, gradually wearing them down. They showed the persistence of a quality team in their toughest test so far. However, a matchup with No. 1 Penn State looms on Friday. Bormet and Michigan plan on sticking to the same script that won them the day on Sunday.
“We’re going to wrestle another great team. We’re excited about it,” Bormet said. “In terms of how we prepare and what we do this week, nothing really changes.”
The Wolverines already demonstrated their ability to dominate good teams. But their upcoming matchup between two undefeated teams should provide early insight into how the Wolverines could fare in the NCAA Tournament come March.