Jan. 22, 2014
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at@DaveBrandonAD.
Some thought it was a matter of eight years since the Michigan wrestling team won a dual meet of this importance, but how it came down to the final match on Sunday afternoon made for one of the most exciting wins in Wolverine history.
U-M upset the No. 2-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers, 19-14, in front of a packed house at Cliff Keen Arena as Michigan freshman Adam Coon beat the two-time NCAA All-American Tony Nelson in the second overtime.
Eight years ago, the Golden Gophers came into Ann Arbor as the top-ranked team in the nation, and then U-M pulled the upset, keeping Minnesota from winning the Big Ten title by knocking them off, 19-15. That is where the comparison ends.
Michigan's 2014 victory over Minnesota is a statement win. This U-M team has four freshmen and no returning All-Americans. The Gophers have seven All-Americans wrestling for their squad. The win not only bodes well for the remainder of the year, this victory put Michigan back as team to be reckoned with.
Few in the crowd expected to see Michigan win the dual meet. The arena was jammed to watch the heavyweight matchup: No. 1-ranked Wolverine Coon vs. No. 2-ranked Gopher Nelson.
U-M started the day strong, winning five of the first six matches. But even in the lone loss at 133, Rossi Bruno went on the attack and scored four points right out of the gate against No. 9-ranked Gopher wrestler David Thorn.
In the fifth match prior to intermission, the crowd sensed there was an upset in the making. Brian Murphy, a true freshman who lost his match Friday night against Illinois, knew he had to bounce back. His opponent was no push over. Minnesota's Dylan Ness was a NCAA finalist one year ago, a two-time All-American and currently No. 8 in the 157 weight class.
Murphy fell behind early, suffering a takedown. With the match in doubt, Murphy fought back to tie the score 3-3 in the waning moments of the second period, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Murphy and Ness battled cautiously, hand fighting for most of the third period, neither wanting to make one mistake. Nearing the end of regulation time, Ness attacked, and Murphy countered with a takedown in the last 10 seconds of the match. The level of excitement grew as Michigan held a 13-3 lead at the intermission.
With the Minnesota upper weight gauntlet still to make its appearance, it became apparent that match was going to come down to the heavyweight class. Sure enough, Minnesota rolled into the finale, trailing 16-14.
Coon's entourage stepped up the level of excitement. His Dad, Mom and family along with more than 200 fans from his hometown of Fowlerville, Mich., led the cheers of the Keen Arena crowd as they prepared to watch the best two wrestlers in their class take to the mat for a winner-take-all battle for individual honor and a team victory.
Nelson and Coon didn't let the crowd down. Even though Nelson is known for his power on top and not necessarily an attacking mode, the match was exciting from start to finish. Coon's strength is his ability to escape almost any hold used against him. The strategy, the strength and the intensity of the two student-athletes kept the fans on their feet for the entire match.
The wrestlers traded escapes in regulation with the Michigan crowd hollering their appreciation for every move Coon made.
The match eventually went into double overtime. Each escaped the opening hold. Still, the two heavyweights could not deliver the knockout blow. Finally, Coon made a strong offensive move, and Nelson saw an opening. He tried to go for Coon's legs, but the U-M heavyweight defended it and scored a takedown on the counter attack. The Michigan team, the crowd, and especially the gang from Fowlerville went nuts.
Once Coon took Nelson down the match was over, and I was just hoping the crowd wasn't going to rush the mat. Fortunately, the crowd stayed in their seats, watching and cheering the Wolverine wrestlers as they celebrated.
The weekend was a turning point for the Michigan wrestling program. Not only did our wrestlers beat Minnesota, they upset No. 11 Illinois on Friday night and are showing great promise. Now the Wolverines' lineup is set for a big run through the remainder of the season.
These men have turned the team around, and with the current roster loaded with underclassmen, the future is bright.
On Sunday afternoon, the Michigan-Minnesota wrestling dual meet was also a reminder of what college athletics is all about. It is not just about football, basketball and the media sports; it is about the student-athletes that give their all for Michigan in each one of our 31 sports and the excitement it can bring to all who attend these events.
The atmosphere, the energy and the progress of the U-M wrestling program was on display, making this one of the most incredible dual meets I have ever witnessed. It was quite a day.
Thank you to all the fans who packed Cliff Keen Arena and helped make Sunday afternoon special for everyone wearing Maize and Blue!