DETROIT — Two weeks ago when the Michigan wrestling team won its first Big Ten title in 49 years, a lot of things had to go right.
The middleweights had to exceed expectations, Stevan Micic had to bounce back from an early loss and of course, Myles Amine had to score two late and high drama takedowns to beat Penn State’s Aaron Brooks to clinch the title.
But that was two weeks ago. And on Thursday, heading into day one of the NCAA Championships — the Wolverines’ largest and final goal — the question became whether lightning would strike twice. Could everything go right for Michigan once again?
After day one, the jury is still out.
By every measure, the Wolverines had a strong showing Thursday. Of the eighteen matches they wrestled, they won sixteen, with four major decision victories and one technical fall. But when Penn State is the competition, sometimes very strong performances aren’t enough, and currently Michigan sits in fourth place, half a point behind NC State, a point behind Arizona State and six and a half points behind the Nittany Lions.
“We feel like we’re wrestling pretty well,” associate head coach Kevin Jackson said. “We’re just missing some bonus point opportunities, and that’s why we’re in third right now.”
The NCAA Tournament started in almost identical fashion to the Big Tens. Every Wolverine made it through the first round except for graduate student Stevan Micic, and the team’s stars picked up bonus points, quickly moving the Wolverines to the upper echelon of team standings.
Senior Mason Parris and graduate students Nick Suriano, Logan Massa and Myles Amine all dominated both of their matchups, combining to earn all five of the team’s bonus point victories between them.
Suriano came out flying, eviscerating his first opponent, Stanford’s Logan Ashton, before beating Lock Haven’s Anthony Noto, 8-3, in a tighter, but still decisive victory.
But the team’s most consistent performance came not from either of the No. 1 seeds, but from No. 3 Massa. In each of his bouts, Massa wasn’t just the aggressor; he was in control. This tangibly impacted the Wolverines, as he was the only wrestler to earn two major decision victories. Massa finished the day as Michigan’s highest scorer with four individual points.
While the upperclassmen had the biggest impact on the team scores, the night’s highlights were undoubtedly the narrow victories that wrestlers like redshirt junior Will Lewan and redshirt sophomore Cam Amine eked out time and time again.
Will Lewan is not the wrestler to watch if you’re worried about heart health, because his matches consistently teeter on the edge of disaster, and Thursday only exacerbated this trend.
In the first tiebreaker, Lewan had one second to escape starting from the referee’s position if he hoped to win — something unheard of. Somehow, some way, he managed it, and two minutes later, after a wild scramble, his arm was being raised. But that wouldn’t be his only overtime bout of the day, as his next bout would also end 1-1 in regulation before a sudden victory takedown.
Cam Amine, Dylan Ragusin and even Micic all won in similarly tight fashions at some point on Thursday, and because of these victories, Michigan still remains in contention. The team understands that barely winning isn’t ideal, but it’s still winning.
“Preparation allowed those guys to win some of those tight matches,” Jackson said. “We train for overtime matches and we train to get scores in those moments. We don’t want it to be that close, but at the same time we’ve got to find a way to win no matter what the circumstances are.”
On Thursday, Michigan was capable of being two teams. The Wolverines were a team that dominated their opponents and racked up bonus points at some times; at other points, they were a team barely eking out wins.
After one day, the Wolverines’ title hopes are still alive, but they’ve narrowed. With 197-lb. graduate student Pat Brucki dropping an unexpected bout in the second round, Michigan will have to pull another rabbit out of its hat. With seven wrestlers headed to the quarter finals, there are plenty of hats to pick from. What remains to be seen is whether or not there’s any magic.