The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
In Penn State vs Ohio State NCAA, don’t forget Missouri and Michigan
With Ohio State and Penn State ranked among the top two teams this season and the fact that the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions feature a total of 17 athletes seeded among the Top 8 of their weight classes — including four No. 1 seeds in OSU’s Kollin Moore (197 pounds) and Snyder and PSU’s defending champs Zain Retherford and Bo Nickal) — most expect this to be close two-horse race heading into Saturday night’s final at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
But Missouri’s Brian Smith and Michigan’s Joe McFarland believe the Tigers and Wolverines should not be forgotten.
Missouri finished the year undefeated (19-0), won a seventh straight Mid-American Conference championship and sent 10 wrestlers to Cleveland, including seven who are seeded. That includes 157-pound Joey Lavallee, who finished second in the 2017 NCAAs when Missouri finished fifth in St. Louis.
“If you would have asked me (if Missouri would be highly ranked in 2018) in the summer, I really didn’t know who my team was going to be,” Smith said. “I had a young man coming off a complete knee reconstruction. I had a kid coming off of three major surgeries and a neck replacement, a disk replacement in his neck, so I didn’t know.
“If you would have seen them wrestling at that time, watching them in open mat, I thought we’re in trouble at some of these weights. And how far they’ve come is a credit to my staff. I have an unbelievable staff of doctors, trainers, and assistant coaches, from people that work with our program and just develop these guys. And besides the physical part, the mental part, bringing these guys back from injury and where we are right now and how far they’ve come, just pleased with what the staff has done.
“So for us to be even thought about (at the 2018 NCAAs), we’ve come a long way and we’re enjoying the ride. And our kids just, they show up and compete every time we go out.”
So should the Tigers be listed among the favorites?
“You guys won’t, but that’s all right,” Smith told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve been the underdogs all year, so we’ll keep playing that.”
McFarland, meanwhile, believes he may have the best Michigan team since 2007 when another group of Wolverines placed second. The 2017-18 team lost to both Penn State (25-12) and Ohio State (18-15) in dual meets this winter and claimed third at the Big Ten championships.
But he also believes the eight Wolverines, including six seeded wrestlers, should not be forgotten in Cleveland.
“We’ve been one of those teams all season that should be in the conversation,” said McFarland, who is in his 19th season at Ann Arbor. “The two leading horses are Ohio State and Penn State and it seems like those are the only teams that people want to talk about. But that takes pressure off of us. My guys seem pretty relaxed, hungry and ready to make some noise this week.”
Among the most notable Wolverines are 165-pound Logan Massa, the 2017 All-American who finished third in the recent Big Tens after struggling in the regular season.
“I think Logan is further along than he was at the Big Tens, especially mentally he is in a better spot,” said McFarland. “I am seeing the old Logan Massa. It wasn’t like that four weeks ago.”