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|The Will to Wynn: Central Michigan sophomore Wynn Michalak takes No. 1 seed into NCAAs|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
OKLAHOMA CITY - Wynn Michalak's dream was to become a Division I quarterback.
And at 6-foot-2 and close to 200 pounds as a prep senior, he certainly looked like a prime candidate to achieve his goal after twice earning all-state honors in football for Caro (Mich.) High School.
But the Division I scholarship offer Michalak so badly wanted never came. He received offers to walk-on and had a couple offers from Division II schools, but that wasn't good enough.
Michalak (pronounced Muh-hay-luck) was determined to make an impact as a Division I athlete, so late in his senior season he gave up on his football dream and instead chose to wrestle for Central Michigan. He signed with the Chippewas that spring and he's made an immediate impact on the mat at the collegiate level.
Michalak placed sixth in the NCAA tournament at 197 pounds last year as a freshman and will take the No. 1 seed into Thursday's NCAA Championships at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
"Wynn's a tremendous athlete, especially for someone his size," Central Michigan coach Tom Borelli said. "He has a great frame, he has great balance and he moves extremely well. He's tough to score on because he's such a good scrambler. The scary part is he's just beginning to scratch the surface of his wrestling ability. He's very talented.
"This is the first time he's completely focused on wrestling and it is really paying off for him. He's added another dimension by becoming a lot stronger since he got here," said Borelli.
Michalak is 29-1 with 14 pins this season. The sophomore's only loss was to No. 5 Joel Flaggert of Oklahoma at the National Duals. He owns a win over two-time national champion Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State and two-time Big 12 champion B.J. Padden of Nebraska.
Michalak spent the final nine weeks of the regular season ranked No. 1.
"I'm very happy with the decision to come to Central Michigan to wrestle," Michalak said. "I very much wanted to play Division I football, but it just didn't work out. Central Michigan kept recruiting me for wrestling and told me if football didn't work out for me they would love to have me wrestle for them. It's been a great fit."
Michalak is one of the leaders on a strong Central Michigan team, ranked seventh in the NWCA/Intermat poll entering the NCAAs. The Chippewas were fourth in the dual-meet rankings. Central Michigan also features ranked wrestlers in Mark Disalvo (fourth at 149), Luke Smith (ninth at 125), Jason Borelli (13th at 133), Brandon Sinnott (16th at 174), Bubba Gritter (19th at heavyweight) and Christian Sinnott (20th at 184).
The persistence of Borelli paid dividends in landing Michalak, who also drew late recruiting interest in wrestling from Michigan. Borelli attended a couple of Michalak's football games and even stood in the snow one day to watch his prize recruit take part in a practice before a playoff game.
"At first, I didn't know what Coach Borelli was doing out there," Michalak said. "When he stood out there in that snowstorm, it made an impact on me. He showed a lot of interest in me and that was a pretty big factor in my decision to go there."
Michalak was a two-time state champion in wrestling, compiling a 232-8 record. Many wrestling coaches backed off on recruiting him since he was set on playing college football until late in his prep career.
"I talked to Michigan for wrestling because it was Michigan and they have one of the top athletic programs in the country," Michalak said. "But I was really sold on Central Michigan and felt loyalty to them because they'd been recruiting me a lot longer."
Michalak's parents both excelled for Central Michigan.
His mother, Karen, competed in field hockey, basketball and track for CMU. She was an alternate on the 1980 U.S. Olympic field hockey team and is a member of the Central Michigan Athletic Hall of Fame. His father, Alan, competed in the shot put and discus on the CMU track and field team.
Wynn grew up attending athletic events at Central Michigan, but nearly didn't go there.
"I didn't want to be overshadowed by everything my mom did there," Michalak said with a laugh. "But in the end it really felt like home because I had been to Mt. Pleasant a lot as a kid and I felt real comfortable there.
"I came from a small town of 2,500 people. I didn't want to go to a huge college with 50,000 students. Central Michigan seemed to fit my personality better than a bigger school would have," he said.
Wynn Michalak is rapidly making a name for himself in wrestling with his long, lanky frame and his freakish athletic ability for someone his size.
In a win over Padden at the National Duals, Padden slipped behind Michalak and had his arms locked around his waist. But Michalak showed off his athleticism by hitting a textbook Granby roll from his feet and scrambling free to avoid being taken down.
"Once in a while Wynn does something in a match that just amazes you," Borelli said. "You see him get out of trouble and say, 'Wow, how did he just do that?' He knows how to work his way out of some tough situations."
Michalak entered last year's NCAA meet seeded No. 12, and he felt he should have made the finals after dropping a heartbreaking quarterfinal decision to Northern Iowa's Sean Stender. Michalak led late in the match before surrendering a takedown. Stender went on to place second.
"I should have won that match and should have made the finals," said Michalak, who was 35-10 as a freshman. "That match was a very good learning experience for me. He took me down with 15 seconds left. I took a bad shot and it cost me. It's been a big motivator for me. I know how close I was to finishing second last year."
Standing 6-foot-2 provides Michalak with a noticeable advantage in leverage over most of his opponents.
"It's definitely something I try to take advantage of," he said. "I try to use my size to offset their strength."
Michalak carries a 3.76 GPA in mathematics education and physical education. He hopes to become a teacher and a coach. He was ranked second academically in his class in high school.
Michalak won't be an underdog at the NCAAs this year, but said he's prepared for the challenge of being the favorite. Padden is expected to be seeded third, Rosholt fourth and Flaggert fifth. Second-ranked Kyle Cerminara of Buffalo, whom Michalak has beaten this year, likely will draw the No. 2 seed.
"Beating guys like Rosholt and Padden, who are among the best in the country, that's a pretty big confidence-booster for me," Michalak said. "I know I can wrestle with anybody. The key at nationals is staying up for every match. I just have to wrestle as hard as I can, no matter who I'm facing."
Even though he is just a sophomore, the 21-year-old Michalak said he's given some thought to wrestling internationally.
"I haven't wrestled much freestyle and Greco," he said. "But I would like to try it and see where it takes me."