Friday’s wrestling meet was about as close as you’d ever see, but you would never know by looking at the final score.
The score also couldn’t show you how thunderous the cheers were throughout Crisler Center, the close matches against defending national champions or the boisterous disapproval of controversial calls.
No. 1 Penn State (2-0 Big Ten, 6-0 overall) was, in the end, more aggressive and technically sound than the eighth-ranked Michigan wrestling team (2-1, 5-2), eventually topping them, 25-12.
The Wolverines’ three wins of the meet came from freshman Drew Mattin at 125 pounds, redshirt sophomore Stevan Micic at 133 pounds and fifth-year senior Adam Coon at heavyweight.
Michigan took the first two matches of the night with relative ease as Mattin and Micic each earned major decisions to put the Wolverines up 8-0. However, this was the calm before the storm, as Michigan went on to drop the next seven matchups — five of them to defending national champions.
The Wolverines did not have momentum on their side, as it eluded the team all night despite the largest home crowd they have ever seen. The Nittany Lions consistently began each match aggressively, as nearly every Penn State wrestler was able to secure a takedown early on.
“In every match the guy who scored the first takedown won the match,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “That shows you how important getting that first takedown is and getting that momentum on your side.”
In what may have been the quintessential match of the night, redshirt junior Alec Pantaleo fell, 6-4, to Jason Nolf, the defending national champion and top-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds.
The match began like any other that night as Nolf scored a quick takedown at the start of the first period. After Nolf’s escape to start the second period, Pantaleo started a difficult uphill climb with a takedown of his own. Down only a point heading into the third, Pantaleo elected to start in the down position, a decision he would later regret as Nolf held onto him for the remainder of the match for a 6-4 win.
“You can say it was a bad decision all you want,” Pantaleo said. “But from last year I’ve made big strides, and I was really confident when I chose bottom.”
Ultimately, this sentiment may have been indicative of the match as a whole: Michigan was on the cusp but could not match up to the Nittany Lions’ near-technical perfection.
Now that the Wolverines have faced the top team in the nation and know what it takes both mentally and physically to wrestle with the best, they are optimistic about their chances the next time they see Penn State on the mat.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the video review to see what I did wrong so I can fix it,” Pantaleo said. “There’s so much that we can watch on video to see how they’re doing it and not let it happen again.”
All in all, this match was a gargantuan battle that justified the switch from the quaint Cliff Keen Arena to Crisler Center on Friday. Additionally, while it may seem fruitless now, the energy in Crisler undoubtedly galvanized Michigan and instilled a previously unknown energy.
“Finally getting in here it was really exciting,” Coon said. “We were all just really amped up, ready to go for a big dual against the returning national champs, but there were nerves and excitement as well — we were just amped up.”
Added McFarland: “It’s a great atmosphere in here, you can feel it — our fans showed up and it was a great atmosphere. I wish we could’ve win a few more of those close ones, but it just wasn’t in the cards I guess.”