EAST LANSING — Competing in an open weight class against wrestlers who have years of collegiate experience for your college wrestling debut is a daunting task — which makes outcompeting and placing above those wrestlers even more impressive.
In the Michigan wrestling team’s first event of the season, the Michigan State Open, that is exactly what freshmen Sergio Lemley and Beau Mantanona did at 141 and 165 pounds, respectively.
Mantanona dominated in his first collegiate match, pinning his opponent and advancing to the quarterfinals in the open. Though he dropped his quarterfinal match against Wisconsin’s Dean Hamiti, Mantanona quickly rebounded in his consolation matches, outscoring opponents Jake Evans and Jake Stiles from Northern Illinois 6-1 and 7-1, respectively. In the match for third place, Mantanona once again fell short to his opponent, Northwestern’s Max Mayfield. But just as he did earlier in the day, he bounced back with a 15-6 win against Central Michigan’s Tyler Swiderski and finished in fifth place.
Lemley was the other freshman competing in an open event instead of the lower freshman/sophomore class. After falling to Northwestern’s Joel VanderVere 11-7 in the semifinals, Lemley gathered momentum in the consultation bracket, advancing through and winning the third place match against Northern Illinois’ Dylan Gvillo.
Michigan coach Sean Bormet noted Lemley and Mantanona’s respective third and fifth place finishes in the open class, praising them for their standout performances.
“Both of those guys wrestled really well; they wrestled with some great consistency today,” Bormet said. “They were really challenged physically, wrestling some older guys, and I thought they kept their composure really well.”
For Lemley, his third place finish was bittersweet. On one hand, dominating many of the matches with these “older guys” was not a bad way to start his collegiate wrestling career. On the other hand, that one semifinal match that kept him from coming out on top stings. Nevertheless, Lemley expressed his excitement toward being on the mat as a Wolverine and saw this first tournament as a baseline to build off of.
“I’ve been loving it here at Michigan, so I was just excited to represent the team,” Lemley said. “Right now, I can see what level I am at at the beginning of the year. I know that I just need little adjustments to jump to the next level, and I feel like I can be competing with every single person in my weight class.”
The results of Saturday’s open are just a preview of what Lemley plans to accomplish this season. Stating “I have no limits on myself,” it is clear that Lemley has set high expectations for himself to work towards in his first season at Michigan.
Bormet echoed Lemley’s sentiment of how the tournament has shown the new Wolverines’ capabilities, but he also found room for improvement.
“Obviously, we saw some areas that they can really improve on which is valuable early in the season like this,” Bormet said. “But the way they competed in every position and throughout an entire match was really exciting. One of the things that I feel really good about is the work these guys put in leading up to this tournament.”
And this work done in preparation for the season goes beyond the physical training and practices. The individualized nature of wrestling expands the role of one’s personal accountability within the team. Bormet emphasized that a player’s mindset going into and coming out of matches is of much greater importance than it may appear. Not only does this mental preparation play a large factor in one’s success, but so does the culture of the team.
“I’m grateful to be here. I have a big support system,” Lemley said. “The coaches are really there for your mindset, and the guys are there to support you emotionally — kind of like a brotherly love — and they give you insight and just really help you and support you and give you confidence to step on the mat.”
Twelve Wolverines placed in this first event of the season, and the Michigan team is just getting started. If the performances of the freshmen give a glimpse into what’s to come for the program, then the Wolverines have the opportunity to build off last year’s successes.