The Wolverine

February 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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68 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2020 BY RYAN TICE I f Michigan Wolverine wres- tlers want to know what it's like to climb to the pinnacle of their sport, they don't have to go far to find an answer to their question. One of their assistant coaches, who more often than not is working out right along- side them, is two-time NCAA champion and three-time All- American Kellen Russell. M G o B l u e . c o m r e c e n t l y named Russell U-M's top wres- tler of the decade, and now he is working to ensure others at his alma mater are able to match — or possibly even exceed — his accomplishments. Russell not only became the sixth multiple-time national champion in Michigan's sto- ried history in 2012 — and first since 2005 — but he became the school's first-ever four-time Big Ten champion. He was only the 11th in the history of wres- tling's toughest conference to do the latter. After redshirting his junior year due to a trying staph infection that required two surgeries, he won 71 of the 72 matches in his final two seasons. As a redshirt junior, he posted just the third perfect cam- paign in school history (minimum 20 matches) with a 38-0 showing. The two-time Michigan Male Athlete of the Year still stands tied for eighth in school history with 134 wins, while his .918 winning percentage (134-12) ranks second. He tied a school record with 14 wins at the Big Ten Championships — but is the only one to wrestle at least 13 times without a blemish — and tied for sixth with 17 wins at the NCAA Championships. "Being the first Michigan four-time Big Ten champ and being able to bring that to the program, where we can say now we have a four-time Big Ten champ, was important to me," he said. "Being able to win two national titles for Michigan was pretty incredible. "At the time, you're just in the mo- ment and expect to win, but now people come up to me and say, 'I re- member watching you win a national championship,' and I realize that's im- portant — not just for me, but for the program and the teams we're building now. They can look at it and know that it is what you can accomplish here. You can be a four-time Big Ten champ, you can be a national champ — and hopefully we'll have a team national championship pretty soon." Russell is just one of three of the Wolverines' most successful grapplers in school history who are now on the coaching staff. His former teammate, Josh Churella, actually paved the path from three-time All-American to vol- unteer assistant coach to full-time as- sistant at Michigan that Russell has followed. Both work for Sean Bormet, a two-time All-American and Big Ten champion at Michigan. Those three now lead the program where they went a combined 383- 54 as collegians, earned eight All-America finishes and four national championship match appearances at the NCAA Championships, seven individ- ual Big Ten titles and five Cliff Keen Awards as the team's most outstanding wrestler. Each ranks among the school's top 15 in all- time wins. "We're one of the few pro- grams that three of our four coaches are graduates," Russell said. "I think that plays a big role in recruiting. We all gradu- ated from here; Josh and I have never really left. … We're all re- ally passionate about the pro- gram and we're all planning on sticking around. "We have first-hand experi- ence of what being a student- athlete here is like. We were all able to accomplish some great things here in wrestling. Obvi- ously, you always want to ac- complish more, but I think we're living proof that you can accom- plish your goals, athletically and academically, here. "And they know we're telling the truth because we've been there and done that." Despite the numerous high-level achievements in his competitive career, ask Russell for the most memorable moment during his last 11 years in Ann Arbor — which spans the High Bridge, N.J., native's arrival from powerhouse Blair Academy to his five years on the team and after wrapping up his time as an athlete for the Cliff Keen Wres- tling Club to his transition in coaching — and it comes from his budding and most recent career. He says it was on the sidelines as a volunteer assistant on Jan. 27, 2018, when the No. 7 Wolverines won the final four bouts at historic Carver- Hawkeye Arena to upset No. 4 Iowa 19-17 in front of 10,418 fans, few of which were in maize and blue. It marked U-M's first win at the wres- tling powerhouse since 2005.   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? National Champion Wrestler Kellen Russell Wants To Continue Helping The Wolverines Make History Russell won his first NCAA championship as a 141-pounder in 2011, completing one of just three perfect seasons in program history, and then repeated as the best at that weight in 2012. He also was the first Michigan wrestler to win four Big Ten titles. PHOTO BY TONY ROTUNDO

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