COLUMN: Wrestling has chance to regain MAC title for the first time since 2012
Central Michigan wrestling has a legitimate chance to take the Mid-American Conference title this season.
Head coach Tom Borrelli has challenged his team early this season. CMU has faced strong competition in both the Cliff Keen Invitational and the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships.
They have also participated in challenging road duals against No. 9 Virginia Tech, No. 15 South Dakota State, No. 25 North Dakota State, and No. 24 Purdue.
With Mid-American Conference play already underway, here's why the Central Michigan wrestling team is primed for another championship.
The Duo of Doom
Sophomore Mason Smith and junior Justin Oliver have caught a few eyes this season.
Smith’s role in the lineup was questioned for the first half of the 2016-17 season, but that is no more. Smith finished last season third at the MAC at 141 pounds and wrestled in last season's NCAA Tournament.
Smith currently sports a 24-3 record in his sophomore season, and currently sits at No. 20 at 141 pounds, according to InterMat.
After wrestling on a bad left leg last season Oliver is primed to earn All-American honors for the second time at CMU. The Davison native fell one match short last season of earning All-American honors. Now at full strength, Oliver sits at 21-2 and ranked No. 3 at 149 pounds.
The junior is primed to become MAC champion this season, and an even bigger run at a National Championship in March.
Redshirt Freshman Matt Stencel is showing the nation that he is next in line of a tradition of All-American heavyweight wrestlers at CMU.
The Oregon, Ohio native currently sits at 20-10 on the season with a team-high 11 pinfall victories. Stencel also has one technical fall and two major decisions under his belt.
With Stencel’s aggressive style at the back end of the lineup, fans have a reliable wrestler to earn a possible match-clinching victory. Borrelli says Stencel is starting to blossom.
Stencel’s step in the right direction is not only great news for CMU this season, but terrifying for the MAC for the next three seasons.
What to look for during the second half
The Chippewas have four of their next five dual meets at McGuirk Arena before finishing the year on the road at Kent State and Michigan. Both Ohio and Missouri will prove to be the strongest contenders for a MAC Championship.
Missouri has won the last five MAC titles, and have lost one MAC dual since joining in the 2012-13 season. The odds this season lean toward CMU.
The Chippewas return six starters from last season’s team, with this year’s squad including three promising freshmen and junior Jordan Atienza, who wrestled at 165 pounds during the 2015-16 season, finding a new home at 197 pounds.
With Missouri losing three All-American wrestlers to graduation and the MAC Tournament taking place at McGuirk Arena in March the stars may be aligning to bring home what’s been missing since the 2012 season – the MAC Championship.