Even dark clouds have silver linings. This appeared to be true in the No. 6 Michigan wrestling team’s Thursday night dual meet against No. 15 South Dakota State, in which a Wolverines team missing several starters to injury and illness recorded five wins over ranked opponents, despite losing the match overall.
Even though both teams each recorded five match wins, the Jackrabbits’ (4-2 overall) bonus points put them on top, and they defeated Michigan (2-1), 22-17.
“Obviously, we had several starting guys out of our lineup, but we brought the best ten guys that we could put on the mat,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “And in those other five matches, when we have some injured guys, or illness, when we have guys get called on to step into the lineup, you expect them ready to perform at their highest potential, and unfortunately last night I don’t feel like that necessarily happened at a few of those weights, and that was really the difference.”
The Wolverines started on a rough note as they lost the first two bouts of the evening. In the 125-pound weight class, redshirt sophomore Christian Tanefeu went down 5-3 thanks to a third-period head in the hole takedown from South Dakota State’s No. 18 Tanner Jordan. Redshirt freshman Nolan Wertanen lost by fall in the 133-pound match to No. 16 Derrick Cardinal.
However, in the first ranked bout of the match, at 141 pounds, No. 30 freshman Sergio Lemley won his bout over No. 14 Clay Carlson thanks to a late single-leg takedown,giving Michigan its first win of the match.
Next up, No. 9 graduate student Austin Gomez, a transfer from Wisconsin who had previously wrestled at Iowa State, made his debut for the Wolverines. And wrestling in the 149-pound weight class, Gomez proved that he needed no time to settle in. He comfortably won his matchup 10-4 against No. 18 Alek Martin, recording three takedowns.
“I think I did a really good job getting to my attacks,” Gomez said “When I wanted to score, I scored, and I think the guys slowed me down a little bit too much. So something I need to work on is controlling tie ups a little bit more, moving my feet, things like that.”
It was Gomez’s fellow transfer, Shane Griffith, at 174 pounds, who won the dual’s marquee bout. No. 5 Griffith, who transferred from Stanford this offseason, took down No. 4 Cade DeVos with a single in the third period for a 4-1 victory.
“I think my opponent and I match up a little similar,” Griffith said “We’re both pretty long guys and have similar styles, and obviously he’s a top five guy in the country. So going out there, he’s going to be a good wrestler and going to be able to scrap and try new things, so I think it was a good matchup for both of us and a good match for the anticipation of nationals.”
Michigan’s other two wins came in the 165-pound class, where freshman Beau Mantanona secured a 4-2 victory over No. 33 Tanner Cook, and in the heavyweight class, where graduate student No. 4 Lucas Davison racked up five takedowns in a 20-4 victory over No. 33 Luke Rasmussen.
While the Wolverines secured impressive victories against ranked opposition, it was their losses in two major decisions in the 157- and 184- pound bouts, and a technical fall in the 197- pound bout that led to their defeat. South Dakota State did not surrender the lead once on a night where the strains of injury and illness plagued a highly talented Michigan team.
“It’s wrestling season so you know, you’re battling through at different times…injuries, there’s some illness going around…” Bormet said “You know that you got to have the right depth on your team, and you got to have guys ready to step into the lineup and ready to compete at a high level.”
While lost matches proved to be costly, the Wolverines’ performances against ranked competition showed the amount of talent on the roster. If Michigan can mitigate the depth concerns that cost them the victory in Sioux Falls, they can put themselves in position to meet their lofty expectations.