Last fall, a 220-pound Mason Parris started the wrestling season as a redshirt. He practiced and built up strength while his teammates wrestled in dual meets against Central Michigan, Lehigh and Indiana. The then-freshman heavyweight waited to shed his redshirt, and on Jan. 3 at Oregon State, he finally had the chance to justify his No. 1 recruitment ranking.
In the first varsity meet of his college career, Parris decisively beat top-ranked heavyweight in the nation Amar Dhesi, 11-4.
Ten months later, Parris stepped on the mat again, but this time, he entered his season free from his redshirt, with a top-10 collegiate ranking, a seventh place finish at the Big Ten Tournament and an NCAA tournament appearance to replace it.
His start to this year has been just as explosive.
Highlighting strong performances from other veteran Wolverines and newcomers in the team’s first tournament of the season, Parris won all five of his matches to secure the heavyweight division in the Michigan State Open this weekend. Parris’ performance, like those of many of his teammates, reflected not only his raw talent, but also his work on technique and strength in the offseason.
Starting the tournament on a high in the 141-pound freshman and sophomore division, freshman Cole Mattin placed fourth with a 3-2 record. His performance showed the strength of the new freshman class, along with freshman Cameron Amine’s fifth place finish at 165 pounds in the Open Division. Both Mattin and Amine, while starting their Michigan careers as redshirts like Parris did, came into the program already familiar with the Wolverines. Mattin’s brother, Drew, a junior, started last season at 125 for Michigan and Amine’s brother Jordan Amine (’18) wrestled for the Wolverines, along with his uncle Mike Amine (’89), cousin Malik Amine (’19) and cousin Myles Amine, who will use an Olympic redshirt in what would be his fifth-year season.
“Right now while on redshirt, they’re extremely valuable in the practice room,” said Michigan coach Sean Bormet. “Their approach is no different in that they’re preparing for a season with Big Ten championships and NCAA championships. Showing up every day with that mentality and that attitude, they are great contributors to the practice room and it’s showing up in their wrestling.”
Along with success from younger wrestlers, veterans in the program also performed this weekend, with graduate student Ben Lamantia placing fifth at 149 pounds, redshirt sophomore Jelani Embree reaching the finals at 184 pounds, redshirt senior Jackson Striggow finishing fourth at 184 pounds and redshirt freshman Will Lewan finishing fifth in fifth place in the 157-pound division.
For Lewan in particular, the road to that finish took a detour last year in his first year at Michigan. Sidelined due to a shoulder surgery, the four-time Illinois state placewinner spent the season training, competing unattached in three tournaments his freshman year. In this tournament, the first of his first season in the Wolverines’ varsity lineup, Lewan secured a 5-1 record, pinning two of his competitors.
“I was confident and Will is a great competitor, but I knew he hadn’t competed in a long time, close to a year because he had that shoulder surgery,” Bormet said. “Sometimes, when you get out, I wasn’t sure if he’d be a little rusty. I think he was a little hesitant with his offense early in the tournament and then he started to relax and compete, and I think we’ll steadily continue to see Will’s offense increase.”
But the highlight of the tournament for Michigan was Parris’ performance at heavyweight.
Capturing wins in the first five matches of his sophomore season, Parris finished the tournament with a 1:40 pin, two major decisions and two decisions under his belt, finishing the tournament on top of the podium.
“I’m ready to prove what I missed out on last year,” Parris said. “I worked on a lot of stuff this offseason. All of this technique and the little details. I thought I executed them well this tournament and have been improving on finishing my takedowns and getting stronger. I could move the guys better than I could last year.”
Parris’ leg attack finishes and riding to control his opponents both improved greatly from last season, a product of his work in the offseason, Bormet said.
“He did a tremendous job just being really consistent in the weight room this spring and summer, and it shows in his size and especially in his strength,” Bormet said. “We had a lot of matches yesterday and pretty much had our full team wrestling, so we saw some really good things and as a team saw some common areas that we’ll continue to work on.”
For Parris, those improvements are a priority. But this weekend also means something else to the Wolverines’ star heavyweight. This weekend brought Parris one tournament win and five matches closer to his goal. It’s a goal he’s held since last year. And it’s a goal that should be obvious from his plethora of previous No. 1 rankings. Parris wants to be the best.
And he can pinpoint the next step in his top-ranked trajectory easily.
“I want to be an NCAA champ and win it all.”