The Wolverine

October 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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OCTOBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 45 BY JOHN BORTON J osh Churella couldn't imagine day- to-day life without hands-on in- volvement in the sport he has always loved. He doesn't have to live it, either. The former Michigan wrestler (2005-08), who went 124-21 over his career, never saw his passion pinned in the past. Instead, he's in his ninth year as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He is putting his own stamp on family tradition. Churella's dad, Mark, posted three NCAA champi- onships over the course of his Michi- gan career (1976-79). Brother Ryan (2003-06) notched three All-America efforts for the Wolverines, and older brother Mark Jr. lettered at U-M in 2001. Josh himself became a three- time All-American, and now he's pouring his knowledge into future champions. "I was the youngest in our family, and there was already a legacy here, with my brothers and my dad com- ing to Michigan and wrestling here," Churella said. "I'm from metro De- troit, so I've definitely been a lifetime Michigan fan. "My heart was always at Michigan. I didn't get recruited by too many other colleges. They saw the writing on the wall." Ryan and Josh, only a year apart, trained together, making Michigan feel "like home" upon Josh's arrival in Ann Arbor. Plus he wasn't any stranger to the squad. "I knew most of the guys on the team pretty well, just because I was around the program a lot," he said. "I was coming to dual meets from an early age. In the summertime, I'd go to camps. They had an open room where high school kids came up in the springtime." Churella entered Michigan wres- tling at 141 pounds, on a loaded roster including two-time national champion Ryan Bertin. The rookie redshirted for a 17-3 squad that tied for first place in the Big Ten's regular season, finished third in the confer- ence championships and ninth at the NCAA Championships. He won his three open tourna- ments and went 14-0 overall, and used the chip on his shoulder to his great advantage in building for the future. "I started competing really well in the room, and it drove my confidence up," Churella said. He watched and emulated Bertin, Greg Wagner and other veteran standouts — on the mat, in the class- room, when situations called for high character. All of it played into a red- shirt freshman season in which the second-year Wolverine didn't plan on settling for less. "I had goals and expectations," he recalled. "I really thought I could be a national champ that year." He sailed through the regular sea- son with just one loss. Churella ad- vanced to the finals at the Big Ten Championships, then rallied from an early deficit to beat Michigan State's Andy Simmons, locking away the title, 4-2. The Wolverines finished third in the Big Tens and were second at the NCAAs, capping a huge year. "Our team was gelling well," Churella said. "We had a lot of con- fidence. We beat Iowa at Iowa that year, and the Big Tens were at Iowa. We just fed off each other. The ball was rolling, and I had a couple of breaks in that tournament. "I ended up getting the job done. However, that would be my only Big Ten championship." He still ponders that fact. Churella noted how the ever-shifting person- nel in weight classes can make it tougher, and how elusive titles can be when a wrestler doesn't put to- gether a complete tournament. Along the way, every athlete faces adversity, he acknowledged. "I had some hurdles over my five years, and I overcame some adver- sities," he said. "I did get on the podium that year as a freshman. But I was very disappointed at the NCAAs. I was the third seed, and I ended up taking eighth." His redshirt sophomore season went smoothly until tournament time. Then, he experienced a rever- sal of fortune. "In the Big Tens, I lost in the semis," he said. "I ended up los- ing again for third and fourth. I still had the thought in my head. When I started this sport, I dreamt of being a national champion, of running up on that stage. "Every year, it was the same thing when I got to that tournament. I truly had that goal and that vision." He lost in the NCAA quarterfinals in overtime, then fell in the "blood round," losing his chance to become an All-American. "I got taken down in the last sec- ond of the match to lose," he said. "That was definitely a few steps back. You talk about being 26-1 go- ing into the national tournament as a freshman, thinking you could be a national champ, and the following year you don't win another Big Ten title and you don't get on the podium [for placing top eight]. "You look at yourself in the mirror and try to figure out what changes need to be made. After that, it was in my best interest to go up a weight. That definitely worked out better for me my next two seasons." Amid several team weight shifts, Churella went to 149. He entered his fourth year as a Wolverine deeply motivated. "When you have the disappoint- Churella was a three-time All-American and a 2007 149-pound NCAA finalist for Michigan from 2005-08, spent three years competing for the U.S. Freestyle National Team, then began coaching at his alma mater in 2013. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Josh Churella Now Pours His Passion Into Coaching

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