‘We’re gonna be the best team’: After Olympics postponed, redshirting wrestlers plan to return
Sean Bormet had everything perfectly planned out.
Three of his top wrestlers would redshirt the 2020 season to prepare for the Olympics. They’d compete in Tokyo this summer. Then they’d come back for their final season at Michigan, joining a team loaded with talent and primed to contend.
It was an arrangement that should’ve worked for everyone. Instead, all of it is in flux.
First, COVID-19 canceled the NCAA Championships. Then it pushed the Olympics back to 2021. Now, Bormet and the Michigan wrestling team must adapt again.
Fifth-year seniors Myles Amine, Logan Massa and Stevan Micic, all of whom took Olympic redshirts last year, plan to return to the Wolverines for the 2021 season while simultaneously training for Tokyo. According to Amine, the Wolverines haven’t received official word from the NCAA on whether they will be able to take a second Olympic redshirt. But all three are already sold on coming back.
If Amine, Micic and Massa — all former All-Americans — returned, they knew they would join a team with four additional 2020 All-Americans in junior Mason Parris (ranked No. 2 in the country at heavyweight), fifth-year senior Kanen Storr, redshirt sophomore Will Lewan and redshirt junior Jack Medley, as well as a two-time cadet world champion in redshirt freshman Kurt McHenry.
That’s eight top competitors of 10 lineup spots.
For Massa, going so long without competition left him restless. Micic, who is 24 years old and was already on his second Olympic redshirt, is just ready to finish out his college career. And for Amine, it was already tough spending one year on the sidelines, not being able to travel or wear a Michigan singlet.
“I don’t want to be in college forever, as much as that sounds like everybody’s dream,” Amine said. “I’m going on six years this next year, so I’m ready to move on to the next stage and graduate, get that all over with.”
So although the circumstances aren’t ideal, all three are excited to get back to competing with the Wolverines. Amine, who competes for San Marino, and Micic, who competes for Serbia, have already qualified for the Games, taking much of the pressure of a pre-Olympic year off.
That isn’t without its complications, though.
There are just six weight classes in the Olympics compared to 10 in the NCAA. That means all three wrestlers have a variation in the weights they’ll compete at in college and international competition, leaving the question of whether some may move up or down weight classes next season.
“Part of the conversations for that is trying to strike the right balance for the right college weight and I think the right college weight is our No. 1 priority and in the process of making those decisions,” Bormet said. “There are some considerations for how they may impact any of our athletes’ international weights.”
Amine previously wrestled at 174 pounds, but with his international weight at 189, he knows he’ll realistically have to move up next season — though it has yet to be determined whether that will be to 184 pounds or 197. Massa plans to move up to 174 pounds from 165, filling Amine’s void. Micic’s international weight is 125 pounds, but he doesn’t plan to move all the way down to that class at Michigan (Medley, the Wolverines’ starter there last season, was an All-American honorable mention and qualified for NCAA Championships). Instead, Micic says he will wrestle at 133 or 141 pounds, keeping in mind that the more weight he has to cut for the Olympics, the harder it will be on his body.
Micic and Amine have also considered wrestling a limited schedule during the regular season, competing in only the most important duals and sitting out others in order to keep their bodies fresh. That could also give some of the Wolverines’ younger wrestlers, who may have anticipated a lineup spot in 2021, a chance to compete.
“We don’t want to overdo it, especially since we’ve been on the team for four or five years already at Michigan,” Micic said. “We’re former captains and we wanna contribute but we want to give our best to help everybody out as well but do what we need to do to stay healthy and … it’s a huge opportunity to wrestle at the Olympics, being Olympians. So we gotta make sure our bodies are there and we’re peaked for the most important events for ourselves and for the team.”
Meanwhile, Massa, who competes for the United States, still has to qualify for Tokyo. Unlike his European teammates — who qualified through the World Championships in 2019 — Massa has to qualify at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will presumably be held next spring after NCAA Championships. Parris, by virtue of his 2019 junior world title, is also qualified for U.S. Trials and plans to compete there. Storr, Lewan and McHenry also have a chance to qualify for the trials through either winning an NCAA championship in 2021 or placing in the top two of a qualifying event held in the spring.
That’s one positive of the circumstances — having so many athletes in a position to qualify to Trials or the Olympics will raise the bar for the whole team and push everyone to be the best they can.
“There’s guys like Mason Parris that will probably, we have a competition for who can score the most points in a match and he’d probably beat me in a lot of matches this year,” Amine said. “So it’s like a friendly competitiveness.
“ … That’s something that this year we’ve had more than ever. It was probably two years or three years back (in 2018), when we placed fourth as a team and got a trophy, that it felt like that.”
Inevitably, there’s a letdown that comes with the Olympics being postponed. These athletes have trained their whole lives for one event, and now it’s on hold. But with the postponement also came hope. They have one more year to train and get stronger. They still could go to Tokyo.
And with a lineup loaded top to bottom, a national championship is possible, too.
Perhaps Massa said it best.
“We’re gonna be the best team because we got a bunch of guys who wanna be the best in the world.”