Bright future on display at NCAA Championship

Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 5:04pm

The Michigan wrestling team has been battered by injuries all year long. But even right before the season came to a close, bad luck came their way again. Redshirt sophomore Zac Hall and — especially heartbreaking senior captain Brian Murphy would be unable to compete.

The Wolverines would only be able to send a small squad of five wrestlers to the tournament.  But fortunately for Michigan, three freshmen would go on to have truly standout performances.

Logan Massa took third overall, and Myles Amine and Stevan Micic both took fourth in their respective weight classes. All three earned All-American honors.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the tournament came when the three freshmen reached the consolation semifinals. For each wrestler, a win meant competing for third place, while a loss meant competing for fifth.

Micic was up first, and he handily beat No. 3 Kaid Brock from Oklahoma State, 10-4. Massa also picked up a 10-4 win, over the Cowboys' Chandler Rogers. Amine had a standout match, pinning Cornell’s second-seed Brian Realbuto, which provided huge bonus points for the team. The Wolverines went 3-for-3. All of them were headed to the consolation finals.

Amine and Micic both failed to overcome their opponents in the finals, placing fourth after falling to top-seeded wrestlers. Micic faced Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello a returning national champ and Amine faced Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia.

Massa, however, dominated his way to a third-place finish over Wisconsin’s No. 5 Isaac Jordan. Jordan is a two-time Big Ten champion, NCAA finalist and a senior. Massa, a freshman, still beat him handily. It just goes to show Massa’s competitive nature that he still wasn't pleased by such a solid finish.

“The goal was to win a national title,” Massa said. “How I can get my hands on the guy that beat me, the guys that are in the finals, where can I see them next, that’s what I’m thinking about right now.”

Massa suffered a heartbreaking loss to Penn State’s Joseph in the semifinals, as he could not finish the go-ahead takedown. Regardless, his achievements and those of Micic and Amine are impressive.

“What they did this weekend was pretty incredible. They competed at a very very elite level, with the best kids in the country,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “And to do it as freshmen is amazing.”

On their efforts, the Wolverines finished the tournament 10th overall. To have such a successful finish clearly meant a great deal to a team that endured so much bad luck throughout the season.

“With the ups and downs of this season, to be able to come to this tournament with a group of five and compete the way they did is such a great feat,” McFarland said. “The whole coaching staff is so proud of these guys, and not just of the three All-Americans, but all of these guys.”

After a strong finish, it is hard not to eagerly await the next year of Michigan wrestling. These three talented freshmen will return, as well as a talented pool who redshirted this season. This includes one of the best heavyweights in the country: the talented two-time All-American senior Adam Coon. Senior Domenic Abounader, a Big Ten champion and All American, will also be returning. Finally, All-American junior Alec Pantaleo, who finished sixth last season, will join the lineup.

“We’re excited about the team we have coming back,” McFarland said. “We could be in the hunt next year at the NCAA championship in Cleveland.”

And with three freshmen returning with previous NCAA success, they definitely could be. The rest of the Big Ten and the NCAA should be on notice.