DETROIT — Things haven’t gone remotely to plan this season for Stevan Micic.
In his final season, the 141-lb. graduate student was supposed to be gunning for his first national title. And it truly seemed like it was possible.
In his three previous NCAA tournaments, Micic, a European Games silver medalist, an Olympian and a three-time All American has never once finished worse than fourth. At the beginning of the year, it would’ve been ludicrous to even imagine that Micic would be ranked 24th entering the postseason.
But for the entirety of this season, Micic has been unable to live up to his previous successes, and his biggest struggles have come on bottom.
He just hasn’t been able to get escapes; in match after match, he’s been unable to stand up. And over and over again, it has cost him. So much so that Micic has started avoiding the position altogether, picking a neutral start over bottom, a starting position that most wrestlers see as an easy point.
And midday Thursday in the first match of Micic’s final NCAA Championships, his inability to escape cost him once again.
Trailing by three points heading into the third period, Micic chose down. He had to. Picking neutral would’ve meant needing two takedowns instead of one. But he wouldn’t ever get the chance to take down Missouri’s Allan Hart — he didn’t even get the chance to stand up. Instead, Micic was ridden out, going on to lose the bout, 7-3. And with that, any remaining hopes of an individual title were dashed.
But Micic’s NCAA Tournament story wasn’t over. For the sake of his team, it couldn’t be. Micic won his second match of the day in the consolation bracket, a tight 7-4 victory over Oklahoma State’s Carter Young.
“It’s really tough bouncing back after a loss, but I think it says a lot about someone’s character,” 285-lb. senior Mason Parris said. “A lot of our guys are trained and mentally ready to come back and not only do it for themselves, but do it for the team. It’s definitely very tough to do, but if anyone can do it, our guys can do it.”
While a 1-1 performance is still a regression for someone who, just four years ago, didn’t lose until the championship, it’s keeping Michigan alive this year. The Wolverines’ goal of earning their first National Championship in program history still relies on the performance of Micic and 197-lb. graduate student Pat Bruki, the only two wrestlers no longer in contention for an individual title.
“It’s gonna be essential (for Micic and Brucki to bounce back); it’s necessary for us to do what we came here to do,” associate coach Kevin Jackson said. “It’s necessary that they stay consistent and they get back to that third and fourth place match and compete to score and get bonus points.”
If Michigan wants to win the team title, or even take second place, it needs all of its wrestlers somewhere on the podium. That includes Micic.
It’s a long road back through the consolation bracket, and it isn’t the road Micic imagined himself taking when he decided to return for his final season. But it’s a road he’s going to need to complete. His team depends on it.
Even if it only takes him to seventh or eighth, the Wolverines desperately need it. Because if they’re going to win, it’ll be tight.