A season that started with the Michigan wrestling team redshirting three of its best athletes began its championship swing this weekend.
And as they continued to travel with a young squad, the 15th-ranked Wolverines ended up right in the middle of the conference, finishing seventh at the Big Ten meet in Bloomington. Ohio State won the team title.
Michigan’s misfortune dates back to last fall, when the program announced that senior All-American Adam Coon, junior All-American Alec Pantaleo and senior Big Ten champion Domenic Abounader would miss the season with injuries and redshirt.
The absences of three top talents spoiled the Wolverines’ depth that could have carried them to their first Big Ten title since 1973, but Michigan managed with a young lineup and could have laid the foundation for a run next year with three of its best back in the lineup.
The Wolverines finished the regular season at 8-7, 4-5 in the nation’s best conference, while facing 11 ranked teams. And when the Big Ten’s best converged this weekend, three Michigan redshirt freshmen, forced into action by injuries, finished in the top three.
“I thought a lot of our guys wrestled really hard,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “We just don’t have the horses right now to be able to compete with the top couple teams. We finished right in the middle, and like I said, there were a lot of top teams in the country that were here.”
The Wolverines’ best finish came from Logan Massa, the runner-up in the 165-pound class. After earning a first-round bye, Massa defeated Nebraska’s Dustin Williams and then Wisconsin’s No. 3 seed Isaac Jordan to reach the final against No. 1 seed Isaiah Martinez.
In the final, Massa, ranked second to Martinez in the country in his weight class, gave up a six-point takedown and ended up losing by six.
“This time, I kind of went out there and got caught off the mat,” Massa said. “And I was down by six points, and that’s a hard deficit to overcome in a match against a high-level opponent. I learned a lot from the match, and I’m just going to move forward and get ready for (the NCAA Championships).”
Another redshirt freshman contributor was Myles Amine, who came in seeded No. 4 in the 174-pound class and finished third. Amine routed Maryland’s Josh Ugalde and Iowa’s Alex Meyer before losing in the semifinals to Ohio State’s Bo Jordan, who won the championship.
“After that match, I had to realize that I’m right up there, and I had a bad match, so I had to shake it off and come back today and finish strong,” Amine said. “And that’s kind of the mindset I went into the day with. I had a couple minutes to mope about that, but this sport is too tough to feel sorry for yourself.”
With that mindset, Amine bounced back to win the third-place match against Illinois’ No. 3 seed Zach Brunson by technical fall.
Despite the seventh-place team finish, several of Michigan’s wrestlers finished better than their seeding position but still lost to higher competition. In the 133-pound class, redshirt freshman Stevan Micic lost a 6-5 decision to Ohio State’s undefeated No. 1 seed Nathan Tomasello. He, too, recovered to beat an Illinois wrestler seeded higher than him, Zane Richards, in the third-place match.
The Wolverines finished without an All-Big Ten performer, as the champion Buckeyes picked up four of the nine awards. Instead, Michigan hopes it earned valuable experience for the NCAA Championships next week as well as future seasons.
“Looking back at it, I think sometimes we take these things for granted — all the fans, and the environment, how loud the arena is,” Amine said. “You don’t really realize when you’re wrestling, but after you’re done, you look and it’s almost a surreal experience.”
In two days of competition at Indiana’s Assembly Hall, McFarland hopes his team learned how much intensity it takes to win the tournament.
“The intensity, from match to match, you’ve got to be ready every round, and that’s the way it’s going to be at the NCAA Championships as well,” McFarland said. “I think this was a really good preview for us, helping us get ready for the NCAA coming up in (11) days.”