The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - 11
Young wrestler has promising future
By Robert Kaitz
Daily Sports Writer
To characterize Michigan freshman Michael Watts's
season as a learning experience would be a gross under-
Like all freshmen, Watts came into a new environment
in Ann Arbor looking to find a niche - both academically
and socially. Watts hails from Riverton, Utah - a suburb
of Salt Lake City - so he also had to adjust to living more
than 1,600 miles from home. Additionally, he had to learn
how to compete as the starter at the 125-pound weight
class for the fourth-ranked Wolverines.
Watts was not expected to contribute much in his first
season. Most wrestlers redshirt their freshman year to ease
the transition from high school to college.
It was anticipated that Watts would do the same, but his
early performance showed the coaching staff that he could
immediately contribute at the lightest weight class. After
projected starter Jim Shutich moved to the 133-pound
weight class, Watts outwrestled his competition on the
squad and shocked the team by becoming a starter.
Besides being thousands of miles from home and a true
freshman in a sport dominated by collegiate veterans, he
must wrestle in a weight class that Michigan coach Joe
McFarland characters as "easily the most competitive." For
Watts, this means that he wrestles the best in the country.
And he has decided to cherish this opportunity.
. "Wrestling the top guys will only get me better quicker,"
Indeed, Watts has learned to step up against this elite
competition. His first dual-meet victory came against Hof-
stra's Dave Tomasette, who was ranked No. 20 at the time
of their match.
In addition to his performance on the mat, Watts has
earned the respect of his coaches and teammates for other
"I really like his personality," McFarland said. "His
enthusiasm and demeanor are great, and he's always got a
smile on his face."
Team leaders are equally appreciative of the job Watts
does. Most dual meets begin with the 125-pound weight class,
meaning that Watts usually leads off for the Wolverines.
"He has to set the tone for the meet, which is really tough
for the young guys," senior co-captain Greg Wagner said.
The older wrestlers admire the grit of Watts, and he
enjoys being a member of their team.
"(The team leaders) keep me motivated and comfort
me after tough matches," Watts said. "It's a great group of
guys to have fun with."
Watts said he believes he is wrestling better every time
he steps onto the mat. Because of this, the win and loss
record he compiles this season is irrelevant as long as he
"Mike is really starting to make progress in the last
couple of matches;' Wagner said.
The road has been tough for Watts. Last Saturday, he fell
to Illinois' Kyle Ott - ranked third nationally. The loss
followed tough losses to No. 4 Nick Simmons of Michigan
State and eighth- ranked John Velez of Northwestern the
Watts also has to overcome being the only member of
the wrestling team from Utah. Since a vast majority of the
wrestlers are in-staters. But attending Michigan intrigued
Watts, since he grew up watching Michigan football.
When it became more common for wrestling meets to be
broadcast nationally, Watts decided he wanted to wrestle
for the Wolverines.
McFarland first saw Watts compete in a national tour-
nament for high school seniors held in Cleveland last year.
There, Watts finished third in his weight class. After McFar-
land reviewed some tapes of Watts wrestling, he offered him
a scholarship. Watts immediately accepted and prepared to
embark on a collegiate career in Ann Arbor.
Watching Watts at wrestling practice only further illus-
trates the accuracy of McFarland's and Wagner's com-
ments. He smiles politely as others jokingly rib on him.
He is eager to accept some constructive advice from the
coaching staff and fellow wrestlers. If his progress contin-
ues, there is no stopping how productive Watts can be in
his career at Michigan.
Johnson bucks family trend to swim for Blue
Continued from page 10
helped the Wolverines prevail with an upset win over Michigan State.
Just three days later, his clutch 10-for-10 performance staved off a val-
iant Badger comeback led by Kammron Taylor.
Both Horton's teammates and coaches applaud the clinic Horton has
given from the line.
"He does amazing things all time, so you kind of get used to it," fresh-
man Jerret Smith said. "It's kind of bad to say you get used to amazing
things, but when he keeps doing them, you got to get used to it."
Said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker: "He certainly had a streak
that was just phenomenal. And that's invaluable when you have your
point guard, the ballhandler, out on the floor (to shoot free throws in
late game situations.)"
INJURY UPDATE: If you took a look at the Michigan bench during Satur-
day's game, you might have noted two glaring omissions. Neither Les-
ter Abram nor Smith was seated with his fellow Wolverines. Instead,
they both remained in Ann Arbor to continue nursing their respective
Abram missed his fifth Big Ten game of the season, still struggling
to overcome a severely sprained left ankle. Smith sat out due to a mild
concussion he suffered in an entanglement during the team's victory
over Penn State.
"It's always frustrating, I wish I could have been there, but I mean
we can't prevent our injuries," Smith said. "I gave 100 percent to get
the loose ball, and it just so happens that I got kneed in the back of
Although it was clear before the game what the loss of Abram meant
to the Wolverines, Smith's absence was not so easy to figure into the
equation. About two minutes in, it became apparent.
Dion Harris picked up two quick fouls, and backup Sherrod Harrell
came in and collected two more. This forced Michigan to play with an
undermanned backcourt - Hayes Grooms played almost as many min-
utes on Saturday (16) as he had in all other games combined (22). It also
meant Michigan had to play a zone, which allowed the Hawkeyes to
light the nets with a 13-for-19 shooting performance from. downtown.
Yesterday, doctors cleared Smith to practice, and the freshman
expects to play in Thursday's matchup with Ohio State.
"I'm feeling better, feeling a lot better, ready to get back to practic-
ing" Smith said.
The outlook for Abram is not quite as optimistic. Although Amak-
er said he had not yet discussed the situation with the medical staff,
he doesn't plan on having Abram, still listed as day-to-day, available
against the Buckeyes.
NoTEs: Despite losing by a margin of 28 points, Michigan remains
ranked. The Wolverines occupy the 22nd spot in both the Associated
Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls.... On Saturday, Grooms
hit his first field goal as a Wolverine, knocking down a 3-pointer....
Horton moved to sixth on Michigan's all-time assists leaderboard, dish-
ing three to push his total to 423.
Continued from page 10
50-yard split timed at 24.89, Grevers was unable to beat the Wolverine.
DeJong's time of 1:4241 marked a pool record and an NCAA "A" cut.
"Chris's 200-(yard) backstroke was really good;' Bowman said.
"He stepped up after getting second in the 100-(yard backstroke) and
worked Grevers the entire race. That was a great time for Chris, and I
was happy that he could pull it off"
Senior co-captain Davis Tarwater was the third Michigan swimmer
to break one of the four pool records. Tarwater swam the 100-yard but-
terfly in 1:47.71 to earn a spot on the record wall.
"Davis just knows how to get it done," Bowman said. "He had a
good race, and I have a lot of confidence in him as we head into our
The Wolverines are two weeks away from the start of the Big Ten
Championships which will be held in Bloomington Feb. 23-25.
"I think we're just about ready for the Big Ten meet;' Bowman said.
"Besides a couple of technical details, I believe we're about at our peak.
I think our team will be a strong contender for the title this year."
By Amber Colvin
Daily Sports Writer
Freshman swimmer Payton Johnson start-
ed because of her family. But when it came
time to choose a college, she did it all on her
Johnson grew up in a family of swimmers
- the youngest of three - and was just fol-
lowing her sister Rachel and brother Peir when
she first hopped in the water. At age five she
began swimming for a country club in her
hometown of Champaign.
Both older siblings later swam for North-
western, so it seemed natural that the young-
est Johnson would follow suit and become a
Wildcat as well. Or she could have stayed in
her hometown to swim for Illinois. But in the
end, she enrolled somewhere no one expected
or even really understood. Even Johnson can't
explain why, instead of purple or orange, her
swim cap is now maize and blue.
"I don't really know how I ended up at
Michigan" Johnson said. "At least I stayed in1
the Big Ten. This was the best place for me,
Michigan coach Jim Richardson first met
Johnson when she came to look at Michigan
as a potential school. Immediately, Rich-1
ardson was impressed with the bubbly high-+
"At that visit, I thought 'Boy, has she really1
got a great effervescent, outgoing personality,'
" Richardson said. "That was really evident1
the first time I sat down with her."
That dynamic personality helps when it's
time to get down to business in the pool.
"You're talking about a bundle of positive
energy" Richardson said. "She is just full of
energy. Positive. Upbeat. She just pours her-
self into everything that she does completely,
and she doesn't hold back."
On a team that is no stranger to hard work,
Johnson fits in well. Many first-year swim-
mers struggle in their first year of collegiate
competition, but Johnson has made adapting
Her best event has been the 100-yard but-
terfly - an event she won three times at the
Illinois high school championships.
It didn't take her long to find the first-place
spot in college either. Overcoming the first
career-meet jitters, Johnson won the 200-yard
IM in the season kickoff against California,
another school she considered attending.
Though she mostly competes in the but-
terfly, Johnson has also made her presence
known by swimming freestyle on several key
But Johnson doesn't want spectators to be
fooled by her fast times and many wins. Her
seemingly smooth transition from high school
to college has not been without struggle, espe-
cially when workouts have been rough.
"It's definitely been hard for me to adjust
because everything here is faster-paced and
harder," Johnson said. "But the girls definitely
help me out. I've done things here that are
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Freshman Payton Johnson shocked her family in Illinois when she decided to attend
Michigan. The choice has paid off for both her and the Wolverines.
harder than I could have ever imagined. But
somehow we always get through it and we do
well. It's been fun and good - but definitely
not without the hardships."
Fortunately for Johnson, when times get
tough, she can rely on her support system
back home in Illinois. And who better to
help with the stresses of swimming than fel-
"I can call anybody in my family, and they
know exactly what I'm going through," John-
son said. "They've done it. They've been there.
They've gone through the hard academics and
gone through the hard training. It's actually
really helpful. Some people would think it's
annoying, but I really appreciate it."
With the support of her family, team and
coaches, Johnson doesn't seem to be slowing
down soon. And as the Big Ten Champion-
ships loom closer on the calendar, she will be
able to put a flourish on an already outstand-
ing first season.