Wrestling's Churella Family

Sons of former U-M national champion form formidable duo

By Leah Howard, U-M Athletic Media Relations

They're bears on top, always working, always looking for the pin. They are among the most competitive athletes at the university, and they're not afraid to work hard and push themselves everyday. They are devoted to the sport and committed to being winners and champions. It's the Churella style of wrestling, and it's brought a tremendous amount of success to the brothers, Josh and Ryan, on the University of Michigan wrestling team.


The Churella family (from left): Mark Jr., Ryan, Josh, Leslie and Mark Sr.

"I think we're both known for being pretty aggressive," said Ryan, "Some people think that we have somewhat opposite styles on the mat, but really I think we're fundamentally the same because we went through the same learning process with my dad. He taught us everything, showing us step by step."

Their father, Mark Churella, continues to stand as the most decorated wrestler in Michigan history as a three-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American from 1976-79. Beyond his own competitive wrestling career, the senior Churella served as an assistant coach at his alma mater (1984-86) and as the head coach at UNLV, where he established the prestigious Cliff Keen Invitational, an annual early-season tournament that he continues to oversee. In 1999, he was inducted to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments as a successful competitor, coach and wrestling promoter.

"He taught us that if you do all the right things and you're disciplined," said Josh, "than you're going to achieve the set goals you have for yourself; that applies on the mat and off. Just hard work and discipline, if you want something badly enough, that's what you need to do."

Hard work and discipline have proved immensely effective for the brothers. Both were repeat Michigan state champion in high school -- Josh claiming three consecutive titles and Ryan winning two. Ryan, the elder brother by two years, claimed NCAA All-America honors last season after placing third at 149 pounds at the NCAA Championships while Josh, with a perfect 14-0 record in open tournaments during his redshirt season in 2003-04, has not lost a match in three years.

Success has also come relatively quickly. With both Ryan and Josh beginning their wrestling careers in the seventh grade, the brothers were late bloomers when compared to many of their peers in the collegiate wrestling community.

"He told us he could teach us as much as anyone else knew at that time," said Ryan. "It is such an intense sport that puts so much pressure on one individual. He wanted us to play all the team sports and get a feel for other things. He never really pushed any of us to wrestle, but I'm sure he enjoys it now."

Mark Sr. went 44-2 en route to the NCAA 167-pound title in 1978-79.

"I was always eager to wrestle before seventh grade," said Josh, "because I saw my brothers involved in it, but my dad wouldn't let me. I'd just get mad at him about it, but he used to tell me that even if I started in seventh grade, if I committed myself, I could be better than everyone in high school and compete at the college level. He didn't want us to get burnt out."

Both brothers regard family as the most important facet in their lives. Staying in close proximity to their entire immediate family -- all of whom live within the metro-Detroit area -- was central in their decision to attend Michigan. For Josh, the youngest of the three Churella boys, -- the oldest brother, Mark, Jr., was a four-year reserve in the Wolverine lineup, battling injuries to earn a varsity letter in 2001 -- the decision to come to Michigan wasn't a difficult choice.

"I tried to keep an open mind during high school," said Josh, "I looked at a number of different schools, but by my senior year, I think my heart was really at Michigan. Ultimately I wanted to wrestle with my brother, and I just liked the whole program here. I had wrestled with my brother in high school, and that was a comfort zone for me, so I wanted to continue that in college."

Beyond possessing just the typical brotherly bond, the Churellas are roommates, training partners and best friends. When they're not in class, they can usually be found together training, studying or watching television. They say that their support for each other -- on the mat and off -- has proved invaluable in their wrestling careers.

"I'd have to say that everyday -- on and off days -- he pushes me to be better," said Josh, "It's somebody there when you're cutting weight and you need someone to bring you up when you need someone to drill with hard. I've always wrestled with him, so it's always been the same thing. We come in and push each other hard, and it's just made me a better wrestler."

This story was originally published in the inaugural issue of "M" -- the official program of Michigan Athletics. More Information

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