The Michigan wrestling team was in need of a late-tournament rally to finish in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships this weekend.
The Wolverines weren’t led by the usual workhorses at the higher weight classes. Instead, junior 125-pounder Connor Youtsey and sophomore 149-pounder Alec Pantaleo fueled the team’s rally along with junior heavyweight Adam Coon.
Youtsey, in particular, had to scramble to earn his fifth-place finish. He lost in the quarterfinals early on Friday, and was relegated to the wrestleback portion of the tournament. The unseeded junior went on to take down No. 8 Barlow McGhee from Missouri, 5-3, on a single-leg takedown with one second remaining in the match.
The win placed Youtsey in the “blood round,” a consolation round where the winner is named All-American and the loser is eliminated. The “blood round” match finished in a 3-3 tie, but Youtsey was given the victory because of his six-second advantage in riding time. For the second year in a row, Youtsey came into the tournament unseeded and left an All-American.
“It was fun to watch (Youtsey) compete,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “His intensity, desire and focus was where it needed to be. It was very impressive.”
Coon’s road to his third-place finish was more straightforward. The reliable junior won all of his matches before losing in the semifinals. The fifth-ranked Coon then defeated No. 8 Amarveer Dhesi from Oregon State in just 47 seconds, earning another victory via pinfall in the third-place match.
Though the NCAA Championships are the team's final event of the season, Coon still has the Olympic Trials to look forward to.
“I’ve got a pretty quick turnaround,” Coon said. “I’ll take a couple days off to let my body recover. Maybe after the trials, I’ll take a little more time to review on how the season went, but I’ve got to put this season behind me pretty (quickly).”
Pantaleo earned a spot on the podium for himself by pinning his opponent in the consolation round, but fell in the fifth-place match via pinfall to finish sixth in the 149-pound division.
Though the season is over for the team, McFarland and his staff won’t be taking a break any time soon. Preparations and training for next season have already begun.
“We’re starting to have some conversations amongst the coaching staff on things in regards to next year,” McFarland said. “But we’ll probably get going this weekend on a number of things, and just continue to move forward.”
Though some of the members of the team aren’t finished wrestling, once again the Wolverines’ season ends without them meeting their high expectations. After spending much of the year highly ranked in the polls, Michigan was unable to overcome some of the top-tier teams in their conference and beyond.
And when the Wolverines needed some of their most consistent competitiors to step up the most, they were unable to score to help the team. The lone seniors that competed at the NCAA Championships, 197-pounder Max Huntley and 133-pounder Rossi Bruno, both earned All-American status last year, but were unable to repeat this year.
“I feel bad for those guys,” McFarland said. “It was tough for Max. Max has really struggled with a bad back. It was bothering him since the Big Ten Championships. It was so bad, that he was really struggling with it throughout the tournament. It really locked up on him. But I was really proud of the way he went out there and competed. He's been a great leader in our program, and he's done a tremendous job this year as one of our captains.”
Even though the seniors’ careers ended unceremoniously this weekend, their contributions over their careers have been felt by those who will remain in the program after this year.
“They’re just top-notch guys,” said Coon. “They just welcomed us in to the team (as freshmen), and now they’re the leaders of the team. It just goes to show how quickly the season goes, and how quickly your whole college career goes.”
And now, with a roster that is returning almost all of its members and a coaching staff firmly focused on the future, Michigan will look to take advantage of the lessons from its seniors and ultimately improve on the results from this season.