April 7, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich.- Although the 2010-11 Michigan State wrestling team featured only two seniors on the roster and the Spartans had to deal with multiple injuries throughout the season, the young team gained valuable experience this season competing in the nation's top wrestling conference. In a lineup that featured several underclassmen and first-time starters, Michigan State compiled a 9-9 dual record and sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships. With nine wrestlers returning in 2011-12 with NCAA Championships experience, the future looks bright for the Spartan wrestling program.
The early season injury to two-time NCAA qualifier David Cheza at 157 pounds forced Spartan head coach Tom Minkel to juggle his lineup all year, forcing many wrestlers into starting roles that were thought to redshirt; however, the team showed determination and resiliency in getting off to an 8-1 start, the best for the program since 1993-94.
"This year was a challenge - we had so many injuries and we really had to dig deep in some places sometimes to fill our lineup," said Minkel, who finished his 20th season at the helm of the Spartan program and won his 150th dual as MSU coach against West Virginia on Jan. 14.
In addition to Cheza, 141-pounder Joel Trombly faced shoulder issues all season, and 165-pounder Ben Boudro's season was cut short due to a concussion. Two-time NCAA qualifier Anthony Jones Jr. was also out all season with a shoulder injury.
But despite the plethora of injuries they faced, the Spartans still managed to send five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia, as Dan Osterman (149), Sean McMurray (157), Curran Jacobs (174), Tyler Dickenson (197), and Joe Rizqallah (heavyweight) all made their first appearance at nationals. Jacobs finished the season leading MSU with 25 victories, while Osterman posted 24 and Dickenson compiled 23.
Michigan State will bolster a strong and experienced lineup next season, losing only two seniors to graduation in Boudro and Trombly. NCAA qualifiers Cheza and Jones will return for the Spartans after sitting out this past year with injuries, and in addition to Osterman, McMurray, Jacobs, Dickenson, and Rizqallah, two-time NCAA qualifier Ian Hinton (184), and one-time qualifier Eric Olanowski (125) will also be back for their senior seasons.
"Having nine guys who have been to the NCAA's coming back is a huge leg up for us," Minkel said. "I don't believe there has probably ever been a time in history that we have that many guys returning that have NCAA experience."
Although injuries did diminish the lineup it also opened up opportunities for many other wrestlers. First-time starters this season for MSU included true freshman Sean McMurray (157), red-shirt freshmen Nick Kaczanowski (165), Mick McClure (heavyweight) and Chris Lyon (133), and sophomore Joe Rizqallah (heavyweight).
Michigan State placed 20 wrestlers at the Eastern Michigan Open to kick off the season, and four Spartans took home first place honors at the open. In the open bracket, Osterman (149) and McClure (heavyweight) both won individual titles, while Luke Jones (174) and Nick McDiarmid (197) both placed first in the freshman/sophomore division.
MSU then returned home to host the Michigan State Open where another 12 wrestlers placed. Troy Lamson (157) and Kaczanowski (174) both won individual titles in the freshman/sophomore division.
Michigan State kicked off the dual season with the Sprawl & Brawl in Binghamton, N.Y. The Spartans won all three duals that weekend, defeating Shippensburg, Harvard, and Binghamton by a combined score of 100-25. The Spartans had to rally to defeat host Binghamton, winning the final three matches after being down 15-9 to win 19-15. Binghamton was receiving votes for Top 25 consideration at the time.
Following the Sprawl & Brawl MSU traveled on the road and split duals against Northern Illinois and Iowa on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4, defeating Northern Illinois 20-15 and falling to then No. 6 Iowa 29-10.
The Midlands Championships took place Dec 29-30 and Dickenson was the only Spartan to place, taking home eighth. As a team, Michigan State finished 23rd with 22 points at Midlands.
In its second year, Michigan State hosted the Spartan Duals at Jenison Field House and went unbeaten, defeating Lock Haven, Oakland, and Eastern Michigan. Olanowski (125), Osterman (149) and Dickenson (197) each went undefeated in their three matches in the event.
The dual contest at West Virginia may have been the most exciting of the entire season. The Spartans were behind 12-0 after the first three matches but rallied for the 21-18 victory. Heading into the heavyweight match MSU was trailing 18-15. Rizqallah, in his first start of the season, pinned Philip Mandzik in the second period to give the Spartans the 21-18 victory.
The Spartans then began the Big Ten season, widely considered the toughest conference in NCAA Division 1 wrestling. Seven Big Ten teams finished in the final Top 25 InterMat rankings, and four Big Ten teams placed in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships.
MSU got it first win in Big Ten action by upsetting No. 14 Illinois at Jenison Field House, 21-15. The Spartans were led by Osterman and Hinton, who each defeated ranked wrestlers. Sean McMurray recorded a fall in the second period at the 4:40 mark, propelling the team to the victory. McMurray, a true freshman at 157 pounds, is one Spartan who was called upon when the injuries began to pile up for Michigan State.
The Spartans lost their last five duals of the season, four of which came by teams ranked in the Top 25 at season's end.
Following the regular season, five wrestlers earned pre-seeds in the Big Ten Championships that took place March 5-6 at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.
Ian Hinton was the highest seeded Spartan, coming in at fourth in the 184-pound weight class. Three Spartans earned No. 7 seeds: Osterman (149), McMurray (157) and Rizqallah (heavyweight). Jacobs received an eighth seed in the 174-pound weight class.
Michigan State placed seven wrestlers at the Big Ten Championships, five of which earned bids to the NCAA Championships following their performances. Osterman (149), McMurray (157), Jacobs (174), Dickenson (197) and Rizqallah (heavyweight) all earned bids to nationals.
The NCAA Championships took place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Both Jacobs (174) and Rizqallah (heavyweight) won their first-round matches and advanced to the second round. Dickenson also recorded a victory at the NCAA Championships in the consolation first round. Unfortunately, Osterman dropped both of his matches in overtime and McMurray also went 0-2. Jacobs, Dickenson and Rizqallah all finished the tournament 1-2.
"It's a learning experience, and it's a very difficult environment to compete in, particularly if you haven't been there before," said Minkel on the NCAA's. "It is a great environment, but the margin is small and we simply have to work on making sure that the next time we are back there that we are a little farther ahead than we are now."
Minkel hopes that getting to the NCAA Championships will push his team to work that much harder in order to succeed.
"We have to understand getting there is one thing, doing well is another," Minkel said. "We have to really be motivated to work extremely hard in the offseason and next year, so we can not only go to the NCAA's but have an impact."
The experience that Michigan State returns will be vital going into next season. Having also dealt with adverse situations the entire season will only make them stronger in the long run.
"This year was exceptionally difficult because we started off strong and then lost so many kids to injury, just one after the other," Minkel said. "We only graduate two seniors, so the bulk of our lineup and the bulk of our experience is back. We know that we will be a very strong and formidable program, and it will be happening right around the corner."