The Michigan wrestling team that faced Pittsburgh on Sunday is not the same team that rolled through its first three duals of the season by a combined score of 104-9.
And that’s to be expected, because when four All-Americans return to a lineup and an NCAA champion is added, it’s nearly impossible not to improve. This was apparent on Sunday as the Wolverines rolled past the 23rd-ranked Cougars, their first ranked opponent of the season, by a score of 29-12.
“We’ve got some guys that everyone has been anticipating being back in our lineup,” Michigan coach Sean Bormet said. “I think the overall energy and the confidence up and down the lineup is just at a higher level. And I think that showed in the way we competed.”
The dual meet was kicked off at the 174 lb. weight class by sixth-year senior Logan Massa, returning to the Wolverines’ lineup for his final semester of eligibility. Massa demonstrated that he hasn’t lost a step since he placed fifth at last year’s NCAA tournament, making quick work of his opponent Hunter Kernan. He scored three takedowns before pinning Kernan with a half-nelson 2:20 into the first period to put the Wolverines up 6-0.
At 184 lbs, Myles Amine, another wrestler back for his final semester, followed in Massa’s footsteps and earned the Wolverines their second pin of the night in dominant fashion. It took Amine just 47 seconds to take down and turn his opponent Nicholas Meglino, adding another six points to Michigan’s lead and making the score 12-0.
Following Amine’s victory came the most anticipated bout of the night, ninth-ranked Michigan graduate student Patrick Brucki facing off against eighth-ranked Pitt senior Nino Bonaccorsi, last year’s NCAA runner-up. Brucki surrendered an early takedown to Bonaccorsi, but fought his way back into the match with a gritty, hard-nosed style of wrestling.
He earned two escape points before scoring a takedown late in the second round that would put him up 4-2. Brucki would add another takedown in the third, pushing the score to 6-3 and earning a decision victory over a major opponent making the score 15-0, Michigan.
Heavyweight senior student Mason Parris, the third returning wrestler to take to the mat, kept the Wolverines rolling with a major decision victory over Pitt’s Jake Slinger. Parris scored twice in the waning seconds of the third period to make the score 14-4 and earn his team a bonus point for a major-decision victory.
Following Parris was another highly anticipated matchup for the Wolverines, with 2019 NCAA champion and graduate transfer Nick Suriano taking the mat for the first time as a Wolverine. After missing the 2020 Olympic trials due to a positive COVID-19 test, Suriano dominated the Cougars’ Gage Curry with eight leg attack takedowns, in Suriano’s first collegiate match in over two years.
“He’s a big-time competitor, a big-time point scorer, and he’s got really high goals for the way he competes and the way he wrestles,” Bormet said. “He wants to be dominant, and that’s a style when you wrestle that way and you approach competing and training that way, your rate of improvement is very high.”
The team suffered its only losses of the night at 133 and 141 lbs, with sophomore Jack Medley dropping a tight match to Pitt’s Micky Phillippi and graduate student Stevan Micic losing 11-5 to Dan Mancini. Micic started his match giving up an early takedown to Mancini, but bounced back, escaping and scoring to tie the score at three at the end of the first period. However, Micic’s choice to start the second period on bottom would prove to be fateful, as he was unable to escape and was turned late in the period for four point nearfall, putting Phillippi up 7-3.
That lead proved to be insurmountable for Micic as he went on to lose 11-5. Micic was the only of the returning wrestlers to lose Sunday, and it’s clear that not wrestling folkstyle for almost two years has left his top and bottom game lacking behind where it was in 2019 when he placed second at the NCAA tournament.
“That was a tough match where Stevan did a lot of things right,” Bormet said. “He got into a lot of scoring positions early. I know there’s some areas where he’d like to finish a little cleaner. Just be thinking a little clearer from the bottom position, definitely some things I know he would’ve liked to have done better. But he was in a good hard fought match and those are the things he needs to continue to get back into.”
The night’s wrestling ended with two tight Wolverine victories coming from 149 lb redshirt sophomore Cole Mattin and 157 lb. redshirt junior Will Lewan. Mattin defeated Pitt’s Dan Mancini on the strength of three takedowns, one a period, coming from scrambling positions and single leg attacks en route to a 9-4 victory.
Lewan faced off against Elijah Cleary in what was a hard-fought battle between the two. After a scoreless first period, Lewan earned an escape point and quickly turned around to score a takedown, putting himself up, 3-0, a score which he held through the period as he was able to ride Cleary out. Lewan only surrendered an escape in the third period, winning the match, 3-1, and putting the Wolverines up 29-6.
The team forfeited the 165 lb match, giving the Cougars six points and ending the dual meet, 29-12.
In many ways, even more important than Michigan’s victory was getting its returning wrestlers back on the mat. The team is loaded with veterans, including five fifth-year seniors or graduate students, all of whom are All-Americans. But also important, experience has a recency bias, and it’s hard for even veteran wrestlers to quickly return to peak form without getting at least a few matches under their belt.
Overall, the Wolverines’ performance against Pitt can only be described as dominant.
“We had a dominant performance,” Bormet said. “And I think that’s a carryover from getting that injection into our lineup.”