I'm pleased to announce a new feature that I'll be bringing to Eleven Warriors; leading up to the remaining dual matches on the schedule, I'm going to reach out to the opposing staff to get a glimpse of their perspective heading into the match with the Buckeyes. I figured there was no better time to try out this idea than prior to the Buckeyes' match against arch rival Michigan, which takes place this Friday at 7 PM in St. John Arena.
I had the opportunity to speak with long-time Michigan head coach Joe McFarland, who was more than willing to give me a few minutes of his time.
Curt Heinrichs- Going back a ways, you were an Ohio kid (2 time state champ from North Olmsted High School) that wrestled for Michigan. What made you decide to head north for college and eventually for your coaching career?
Joe McFarland- When I was looking around, I came up here (Michigan) for a recruiting trip, and I felt like it was a really good fit for me. With the academic and athletic traditions, I felt really comfortable at Michigan. I knew right away that Michigan was right where I wanted to be.
CH- Speaking of Ohio, over the past 10 years or so, some of the more decorated wrestlers in the Wolverine program have come from Ohio high schools. Guys like Steve Luke and Andy Hrovat come to mind.
JMF- Don’t forget Ryan Bertin.
CH- He’s another one from St. Edward. You also have Domenic Abounader currently on the team. Is it a concerted effort to maintain ties in Ohio, or is that something that just happens without much planning?
JMF- There’s great wrestling in the state of Ohio, so it’d be foolish of us not to recruit there. I have a lot of respect for the wrestling in the state of Ohio, and obviously I’m a product of that myself. We want to get the best kids out of the state of Michigan and surrounding states. We really focus on trying to recruit well in the Midwest, and that includes Ohio.
CH- Your team had a huge upset of Minnesota a few weeks back. What were some of the keys for the team to pull off that upset?
JMF- I think it was important to get a great start right away. We had a nice win at 125 and another at 141. Our first really big win was Eric Grajales beating Dardanes. We got a lot of emotion on our side with that one. Then our freshman Brian Murphy beat Dylan Ness, so that was a big win for us. That put us in a really good spot at the intermission. We won at 165 and again at heavyweight to take the match.
CH- You mentioned Grajales, who was highly-touted coming out of a top program in Brandon, Florida. He’s been in the lineup ever since, but he’s not found the podium (as an All-American at the NCAA tournament).
JMF- He hasn’t found the podium. I know that’s a goal of his this season.
CH- From my point of view, he looks more consistent this season. Is that something that was a major focus of yours in working with Eric?
JMF- There’s no question about it. There’s been some maturity on his part. We’ve been working on improving consistency with his work habits. He’s been close at the national tournament, but he’s never been on the podium. That’s a burning desire for him. We stress preparation every day in everything that you do, from weight management to nutrition. I think all of those things are going to make a difference.
CH- You had also mentioned your true freshman heavyweight who recently knocked off 2 time NCAA champion Tony Nelson. When you were recruiting Adam Coon, did you think that he was capable of winning his first 23 matches and being ranked #1 as a freshman?
JMF- We knew when we were recruiting him that he was a special kid. We did see that his learning curve in the room is amazing. He makes improvements from day to day and gets better each time out. You never really know until you get a guy out on the mat. He’s very driven, very focused. He’s a hard worker. He’s got everything you want in a wrestler. He’s doing it on the mat and he’s also doing it in the classroom. He’s in the engineering program here and doing well. He’s got a lot of maturity for his age.
CH- That’s great to hear. Your wrestling career comes to an end, but the classroom lessons stick with you down the road.
JMF- No question. That’s one of the major focuses at Michigan. It’s all about being a student-athlete. We like to help these guys excel in the classroom and on the mat.
CH- You head south to Columbus on Friday night. Is the Ohio State-Michigan dual as big of rivalry as it is in football or basketball?
JMF- I think it is. There’s no question that it is. In the Big Ten, it’s such a competitive conference that you have to be ready each and every week. With Ohio State and Michigan, there’s no question about the rivalry. People talk mainly about the football rivalry, but it’s there in every sport. I’m sure that they feel it just like we do.
CH- Trust me, that’s true. As an Ohio State grad, I can attest to that.
JMF- (laughs) I’m sure.
CH- In regards to the dual, you have some spots where you have ranked wrestlers and the Buckeyes don’t. On the other hand, but Buckeyes have some spots with ranked wrestlers where your guys aren’t ranked. Are there any matches that your staff are looking at that would be key swing matches if they were to come out in your favor?
JMF- I was looking at the matches today and I feel like they’re all important. All 10 matches are going to be big matches. It’s all about which guy will step up. We’re going to have a very competitive dual. We respect their program very much and we know that they’re tough wrestling at home. Bonus points may be very important. There are going to be some close matches and whoever can take those close matches is going to win the dual.
CH- If you were to look at the Ohio State-Michigan dual from a fan’s perspective, are there any matches that you see that will be great matches, either because of the style matchups or otherwise?
JMF- That’s an interesting one. There’s a rematch at 133 where our guys met out at Vegas. DiJulius won that one, but it was a close match. That’s going to be an interesting match. I know Paddock and Grajales (149 lbs) have gone back and forth in the past, so that’s going to be an interesting match. We’ve also got a good one at 184. We have a freshman in Abounader and Kenny Courts is a pretty accomplished wrestler. They’re all important, and I think every match is going to be big.
CH- Thanks a lot for your time and best of luck to you for the remainder of the season.
JMF- Thanks Curt.
Photo of Coach McFarland Courtesy of MGoBlue.com