The Michigan wrestling team walked into the Big Ten Championships in Iowa City on Saturday as the No. 8 team in the nation and as the fourth-ranked squad in the conference.
Thus, the Wolverines were disappointed when they found themselves in seventh place after the first day of wrestling. They recovered somewhat on Sunday to climb one spot in the final standings, finishing sixth.
“We hoped to have a better tournament, but we had some ups and downs,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “There were a lot of tough matches, especially Saturday evening.”
Top-ranked junior Adam Coon headlined Michigan’s showing at the Big Ten Championships. He advanced his way to the heavyweight finals with three straight victories. In one of them, Coon took a mere 38 seconds to pin Wisconsin’s Brock Horwath.
But Coon fell short of a Big Ten title as he lost, 7-4, to Ohio State’s second-ranked Kyle Snyder.
“(The final) was a hard-fought match, no question about it,” McFarland said. “But you just have to keep moving forward.”
In the 184-pound class, No. 1 junior Domenic Abounader put up a strong showing of his own with a 9-1 major decision win against Wisconsin’s Ryan Christensen in the quarterfinals. He suffered a defeat at the hands of Nebraska’s fourth-ranked T.J. Dudley before rebounding for two more wins to take third place.
“Dom was the No. 1 seed, so he was a little disappointed,” McFarland said. “But he rebounded well.”
No. 6 junior Brian Murphy knocked off his first two opponents at 157 pounds, one of whom was Rutgers’ No. 3 Richie Lewis. Murphy narrowly lost, 5-4, to Illinois’ No. 2 Isaiah Martinez, but notched a victory over Ohio State’s No. 4 Jake Ryan and Iowa’s Edwin Cooper Jr. to place third.
“I definitely took a step up in my last bouts this weekend,” Murphy said. “And I’m excited to build off of it for nationals.”
Sophomore Alec Pantaleo notched two victories in his first two bouts at 149 pounds, including a 3-2 win over Northwestern’s No. 4 Jason Tsirtsis.
He was then pinned by Penn State’s No. 1 Zain Retherford 2:45 into the semifinal match. Pantaleo bounced back in the consolation rounds with two victories to take third place. One of them was an overtime win over Tsirtsis, who had beaten him earlier in the season.
“I didn’t like how my semifinal match went,” Pantaleo said. “It showed that there is a lot of work to be done. But it’s always nice to avenge a loss.”
Redshirt sophomore Conor Youtsey started off with a 9-1 major decision victory over Northwestern’s Garrison White in the 125-pound class. But it was quickly followed by a 14-4 loss at the hands of Iowa’s No. 2 Tomas Gilman.
Youtsey still recovered, though, netting three more victories in the consolation rounds. It was strong enough for a fifth-place finish.
“I thought Youtsey had a strong tournament,” McFarland said. “He faced a lot of tough guys and had a lot of close matches. It was a whole new tournament, a whole new season for us.”
Senior Rossi Bruno came up big in his opening bout at 133 pounds by pinning Northwestern’s No. 9 Dom Malone 6:36 into the match. But two more tough opponents proved too much for Bruno and he was eliminated following defeats to Illinois’ No. 1 Zane Richards and Rutgers’ No. 10 Anthony Giraldo. The results earned him a ninth-place finish.
The Wolverines won’t have much time to dwell on the Big Ten Championships, though, as the NCAA Tournament begins March 17.
“If we find a way to bring it together for (the NCAA Tournament), I think we can surprise a lot of people,” Murphy said. “A lot of it is just getting into a good place mentally.”