Exactly 10 months since its last official competition, the No. 2 Michigan wrestling team returns to the mat on Friday, Jan. 8 for a dual meet on the road against Rutgers.

The last time fans saw the Wolverines wrestle, they placed 7th in the 2020 Big Ten Championships. A few days later, the NCAA Championships were canceled due to COVID-19.

Last year was a down year for Michigan. The Wolverines finished the year 7-6 (5-4 Big Ten) in dual meets. Still, their record warrants an asterisk — three of the team’s top wrestlers sat out the season to train for the Olympics.

Now, those wrestlers are back. Their presence, combined with expected improvements at weight classes up and down the roster, has Michigan squarely in the Big Ten and national title picture. In fact, this year’s team is arguably the program’s most talented squad of the 21st century.

 

Return of the Olympic Redshirts

Last year, three of Michigan’s best wrestlers — graduate seniors Myles Amine, Stevan Micic and Logan Massa — sat out the 2019-2020 NCAA season to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. In their individual pursuits, all three dominated.

Amine and Micic already qualified for the Olympics, and will respectively represent San Marino and Serbia at the now-2021 games. Additionally, they both medaled at the 2020 European Wrestling Championships and finished 5th in their respective weight classes at the 2019 UWW World Championships.

Massa’s redshirt season was equally, if not more, impressive. Since last appearing for the Wolverines in March 2019, he has won consecutive United State Senior National Championships at 74 kilograms. Although he has not yet qualified for the 2021 Olympics, he will compete for a Tokyo roster spot in April at the United States World Team trials.

In college, Micic, at 133 pounds, starts the year ranked third in his weight class. Massa — who wrestled his first three years at 165 — will now compete at 174. He begins the year as the second ranked wrestler in that weight class. With Massa moving from 165 to 174, Amine will wrestle at 184, where he starts the year as the weight class’s top-ranked wrestler. According to FloWrestling, all three are among the top-25 pound for pound wrestlers in the country (Micic 7th, Amine 10th and Massa 24th).

Combined, the three make Michigan an elite squad on the mat. While only Amine is ranked No. 1 in his weight class to start the year, all three have a chance to become the Wolverines’ first individual NCAA champions since 2012. Together, they could deliver the Michigan wrestling program its first NCAA championship ever.

How High is Mason Parris’s Ceiling?

Junior Mason Parris is an animal on the mat. Yet, for all the terror he causes opponents with his imposing physique and high-level athleticism, the most frightening element of his wrestling is that he keeps getting better; like, a lot better.

As a freshman, Parris flashed every ounce of his potential in his first match after his redshirt was pulled: an upset win over the top-ranked heavyweight in the country, Oregon State’s Amar Dhesi. Parris ended the year with 32 wins, but placed 7th in the Big Ten Championship and could not advance past the round of 12 in the 2019 NCAA Championships.

Last year, coming off a summer during which he won the Junior World Championships, Parris rattled off 28 consecutive wins for the Wolverines; 11 of those were falls and 18 of them were for bonus points. His only loss came in his final match of the year — the Big Ten heavyweight final — which was an 8-6 loss against top-ranked Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson.

Rather than rest on his laurels, Parris’s game took another step forward this offseason. This October, in his first competition since losing to Steveson, Parris won the 2020 U.S. Senior Nationals at 275 pounds. In December, wrestling at the RTC Freestyle Cup, Parris showed national champion and Olympic potential.

His first contest of the event was a convincing 8-2 victory over former two-time NCAA Champion Tony Nelson. Later that day, Parris faced his toughest challenge yet: a matchup with two-time world medalist and USA World Team member Nick Gwiazdowski. Parris stormed out to an 8-0 lead, but soon tired. In short order, Gwiazdowski erased Parris’s lead and won via technical fall.

Luckily for Parris, he got another crack at Gwiazdowski that weekend. In the rematch, the two wrestled in lock-step. With 30 seconds remaining, Gwiazdowski led 7-6. But with the clock winding down, Parris took Gwiazdowski to the mat for two points with a single-leg sweep and won their bout 8-7.

Parris starts the 2021 season as the nation’s No. 2 heavyweight, behind Steveson. But if his offseason is any indication, Parris will be in the hunt for the NCAA title and U.S. Olympic spot at heavyweight.

Who’s Wrestling at 125?

Jack Medley was excellent last season at 125 pounds. Replacing Drew Mattin, the Wolverines’ 2018 and 2019 starter at the weight, Medley went 9-4 in dual meets. He finished 4th in the Big Ten Championships and was the only wrestler to hold Iowa’s No. 1 Spencer Lee to a non-major decision. He is the No. 15 ranked wrestler at his weight class to start the year.

But for all his success, Medley’s starting spot is arguably the least secure on the roster. For that, he can thank precocious freshman challengers Kurt McHenry and Dylan Ragusin.

McHenry, a redshirt freshman, arrived in Ann Arbor last year as one of the program’s most heralded recruits ever. He is a two-time cadet world champion, only the third American ever to earn such accolades.

In addition to McHenry, Medley will also contend with Ragusin, a true freshman from Illinois. Ragusin is a two-time Greco-Roman world team member for the United States and two-time Illinois state champion. This summer, he won the Junior National Championship at 57 kilograms and was the runner-up at the Senior National Championship at the same weight.

With three great options to choose from, it could be weeks before Michigan coach Sean Bormet settles on a permanent starter at the weight.

 

Marquee Matchups

Michigan will wrestle a nine dual, Big Ten-only schedule this season. But that does not mean its schedule will be light. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the Big Ten is the most talented conference in the country. In turn, the Wolverines will have nine opportunities to prove their mettle before the NCAAs in March. 

To preview Michigan’s slate, let’s check out its schedule and the team’s most anticipated individual matchups.

Duals

1/8: @ No. 15 Rutgers

1/10: @ Maryland

1/17: Indiana

1/29-31: No. 1 Iowa/Illinois (tri-meet, in Iowa City)

2/5-7: No. 19 Wisconsin/No. 2 Penn State (tri-meet, in Ann Arbor)

2/12: No. 7 Ohio State

2/19: @ No. 21 Michigan State

3/6-7: Big Ten Championships

3/18-20: NCAA Championships

Individual Matches

Dual meets are fun, but their true intrigue lies within their individual matchups. So, let’s check out this year’s most anticipated matchups for Michigan’s top wrestlers.

133: Micic

         1/8: No. 1 Nick Suriano (Rutgers)

         1/29-1/31: No. 5 Austin DeSanto (Iowa)

         2/5-7: No. 4 Bravo Young (Penn State)           

The 133 weight-class is loaded in the Big Ten. And what better way to start the season for Micic than a test against 2019 National Champion, Rutgers’ Nick Suriano. Micic beat Suriano 3-2 in their first meeting of 2019, but Suriano had the last laugh — he won the Big Ten Championship at 133 and beat Micic at the NCAA Championship on his route to the individual title. On Jan. 8, Micic can start the season with a statement win.

174: Massa

         1/29-31: No. 1 Michael Kemerer (Iowa)

         2/5-7: No. 6 Carter Starocci (Penn State)

         2/12: No. 4 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State)

Massa, new to 174, will have three high-level bouts this year to welcome him to the weight class at the collegiate level. His most important will be the weekend of Jan. 29 against Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, last year’s Big Ten runner-up. Perhaps the matchup will be a Big Ten and NCAA title preview.

184: Amine

         2/5-7: No. 5 Aaron Brooks (Penn State)

184 is one of the few weight classes where the Big Ten does not dominate the rankings. As a result, Amine will have few Olympic caliber challenges in the lead-up to Tokyo. Consequently, Amine has an excellent opportunity to finish the Big Ten season undefeated. 

HWT: Parris

         1/29-31: No. 3 Tony Cassioppi

         2/5-7: No. 5 Trent Hillger

         2/12: No. 6 Tate Orndorff

Unlike at 184, the Big Ten is stacked at heavyweight. Of the three guaranteed top-ten regular season bouts Parris will have, the most anticipated is his rematch with Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi. Last year, Parris dazzled the Crisler Center by pinning the mammoth Cassioppi in 4:31 minutes. This year, Parris will look to pin him faster. Assuming Parris runs the table during the regular season, his anticipated Big Ten and NCAA Championship matches with Minnesota’s No. 1 Gable Steveson will have the potential to be Michigan’s most exhilarating wrestling match since Adam Coon’s 2018 heavyweight upset over Olympic champion Kyle Snyder.

 

The Big Picture

As is the case in most years, No. 1 Iowa is the preseason title favorite, in both the Big Ten and the NCAA. But the 2021 iteration of Michigan wrestling could challenge the Hawkeyes if Micic, Massa, Amine and Parris can build on their recent stellar performances. 

If those dominoes fall and Michigan gets a surprise breakout season from one of fifth-year senior Kanen Storr (No. 9, 149 lbs), sophomore Will Lewan (No. 11, 157 lbs) or freshman Cam Amine (No. 15, 165), Michigan could win its first NCAA Wrestling Championship in program history.