Photo by Richard Immel
While we work hard at TOM to be objective and as unbiased as possible, we all were fans before we started writing about wrestling professionally. With that, we have our favorite teams that we pull for and, especially this time of year, want to see do well. In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to let our hair down a little at the most exciting time of the college wrestling season to enter the Fan Zone. We’ll have fans of Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Iowa getting a little partisan over the next few days as they take a look at their team’s outlook as we head for Cleveland. For these pieces, at least, we’re going back to our roots as fans of the greatest sport in the world! Today Kevin Claunch of the Bloodround podcast steps in to give us the Wolverine perspective.
Being born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to watch several Michigan teams. I’ve been there for the highs and lows of the program over the last 21 years, and I’ve been going to their wrestling camps since I was 11. This year stands out as one of the more complete lineups that the Wolverines have had since the 2005 season. This is the tournament they have been setting themselves up for, having redshirted Pantaleo, Abounader, and Coon last year. This is a season that they had on the radar for quite some time and it’s crazy to think that it’s getting to the end. Let’s take a look at what they have to look forward to in March.
125 – Drew Mattin – Drew burst on the scene with a lot of success, knocking off returning All American Sean Russel of Edinboro at the EMU Open, before eventually winning the tournament. His first varsity match was against returning national champion Darian Cruz (Lehigh), where he lost a hard-fought match 7-0. As many freshmen have in their first year, he had ups and downs, and a couple inconsistencies, but when you have a true freshman knocking off returning NCAA finalist Ethan Lizak (Minnesota), you know you have promise for the future. Mattin entered the Big Ten Tournament seeded eighth, but it was a rough tournament for the true freshman. He ended up placing 10th, which still qualifies him for the NCAA tournament because of the complete buzz saw that the Big Ten was at 125. Entering NCAAs, he’s unseeded, but has a good draw against 16 seed Jacob Schwarm of UNI. I believe Mattin will win that match, and end up in a rematch with Cruz. In the end, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mattin becomes an All American, and neither should you. He’s proven that he can compete, and win, at that level. Has he been slowed down by some of the recent losses or the grind of the college season for a true freshman? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to see him compete. One thing to watch for, he LOVES the throw from an opponent’s underhook. He’s hit a couple throws from there and caught some people throughout the year.
133 – Stevan Micic – Micic’s hair is, like Stevan, ranked second in the country. Here is the thing, Micic has two losses on the year. The controversial loss to Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) at the Cliff Keen, followed by the 22-10 drumming by Austin DeSanto (Drexel). Here’s what I took away from that sequence as a true Michigan homer. A) Pletcher was better than he had looked to that point in the season, but I was 100% confident that Micic was the better wrestler in that match. The takedown call, which by no means should have been a takedown, was the deciding factor of the match in the end. Ultimately though, Micic controlled the majority of the match. The DeSanto match, which was about 20 minutes after the Pletcher match, was an enigma. You have a lunatic in DeSanto who to that point in the season, was just bursting onto the scene, so I don’t know how many people knew about his fireman’s carry. I certainly didn’t and I doubt the Michigan coaching staff was ready for it either. Before you knew it, the match had gotten away. That being said, Micic has done nothing but eviscerate everyone on the mat since then. Micic has wrestled 16 matches since that time, and 14 of those have been major decisions, tech falls, or pins. The only two regular decisions were the seven-point and three-point wins over Pletcher, the three seed in the NCAA tournament. I’m not going to ignore the All-Star Classic match, though. Obviously everyone watched the wrestler with vice grips for hands, Seth Gross, win that match. That being said, I maintain that match could have gone one of two ways. Either Gross was going to tie up Micic and control the action on the feet, and get to his offense, or Micic was going to be able to stay away from the two on one, and get to his offense. I believe Micic can win the NCAA tournament, which would be the second collegiate tournament win of his career (the first was the 2018 Big Ten Tournament), which is weird to think. I am not worried about anyone on the bottom side of the bracket, including a possible Friday morning rematch with DeSanto (assuming he can finally beat Mueller from Virginia, which I think will happen). I’m looking at Micic and Gross in the finals. I anticipate the Michigan coaching staff and Stevan to look to score from the outside and to create more opportunities to scramble.
141 – Sal Profaci – Sal came into the year with the reputation as a grinder, who would fight through all positions, and push his opponents for seven minutes. He had a strong freshman year, where he earned an at large bid to the NCAA Championships, and had big wins over Randy Cruz of Lehigh, and Navy’s Jared Prince. This year we expected things to keep going on that upward trajectory, as they often times do. This was a bit of a struggle, though. Not to say that Sal didn’t show improvement or that their schedule at 141 wasn’t brutal, but it is what it is, and I’m sure Sal would agree that the 13-15 record to finish out the season was not his goal or expectation. Going into next season, it will be interesting to see what will happen at 141 with true freshman Ben Freeman showing promise competing unattached for the Wolverines this year, as well as Kanen Storr potentially transferring from Iowa State to Michigan next season.
149 – Malik Amine, The elder of the two Amine brothers in the starting lineup for Michigan, Malik had a wild season. Let’s start by saying that he did receive an at large bid to compete in the NCAA Championships, so we have that to look forward to, and his matches have been nothing short of wild. How about when he battled with Zain Retherford (Penn State)? Being there in person, I can genuinely say that despite the end result (a Zain pin at 6:30 in the match), Malik did an excellent job of fighting, even to the point of shoving Zain when the ref’s back was turned, which I both appreciated in the moment and support to this day (Zain was trying to break his ankle). Next up, we have the match with Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State. He lost 9-2, but again, battled, and had suffered a HUGE gash to the back of his head. His thick head of hair caught most of the blood, but even so, there was plenty of it to see. Anyway, Malik, like Sal, has proven he will fight for all seven minutes of the match, and has wins over Steve Bleise and Austin Eicher (both formerly of Northern Illinois, current Big Ten Wrestlers for Minnesota and Michigan State respectively). He has the fifth-seeded Buckeye, Ke-Shawn Hayes, in the first round and has a chance to avenge his loss from earlier in the year. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if he indeed holds this spot next year. If Storr comes in, he or Freeman could move up. That could challenge Malik in trying to hold onto the spot in his senior campaign.
157 – Alec Pantaleo, It’s about to get real. This dude was super impressive from his Instagram and Facebook page during his redshirt year, let alone on the mat competing. This guy would do made up workouts where he would do a burpy, into a box jump, into a back flip, and continue. Another fun one was when he would lay on his back, kick up onto one foot, do a single legged squat (which is damn near impossible by itself! Try it!), then lay back and do it all again. Since returning from that entertaining redshirt, he has bumped up to 157, and proven to be a monster, winning the Big Ten at a weight that included both Jason Nolf (Penn State) and Michael Kemmerer (Iowa). Truly, I was looking forward to the Nolf rematch, but he defaulted out with injury, and Kemmerer was upset (he didn’t wrestle in the Michigan dual). Regardless, the best ability is availability, and Alec was available to lay the smack down on Micah Jordan (Ohio State)…again. Going into NCAAs, he’s got the fifth seed, which is both a little low considering he won the Big Ten, but also a somewhat favorable draw. He has to beat Josh Shields of ASU in the quarters, to most likely face an undefeated freshman Hayden Hidlay of NC State. I genuinely believe that this is one of those times where both guys have similar strengths, but the more experienced collegiate wrestler will come out the victor (Hail). In the end, I see Pantaleo winning the title over a still dangerous, but decidedly injured Jason Nolf.
165 – Logan Massa, “You’ve never been on a ride like this before, so sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt” – Dr. Dre, and Various Flight Attendants
You want to know that I think will happen in March? The same thing I thought would happen in November. Logan Massa will beat Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) for the NCAA championship. This has been a strange year for Massa, who entered the year as the third ranked wrestler, but who many thought could win the title (not just me, I promise I heard other people say it). Massa was very clearly hobbled in the Cliff Keen Invitational, and took about six weeks off from competition, after what appeared to be a knee injury. Upon his return, he lost to the defending champion Vincenzo Joseph of PSU, in what was a very competitive match that Massa had a chance to win on a body lock that didn’t go his way. He then lost his next two matches as well to Nick Wanzek of Minnesota (he got caught in a match he was clearly dominating), and then to Alex Marinelli of Iowa (by one point, 3-2), and everyone did what people feel the need to do. They justified these losses as either, “he’s out of shape”, or “he’s just not the same after the injury”. Regardless, he proceeded to then rattle off six straight wins, before again losing to Joseph in the semis on an atrocious hands to the face call in the Big Ten semis. Point being, I believe this man has the talent, the health, and the ability to go on a run at NCAAs. En route to the finals (he’s the seven seed), he will likely see Wisconsin’s Evan Wick (he’s lost to him twice this year, once when he was injured, and once by a point in the consi semis of Big Tens), and I trust he will avenge that loss. Follow that up by beating David McFadden (Virginia Tech), the defending national champ, and Isaiah Martinez, and you have one hell of a title run. Give this man the Hodge! I was asked to be partisan in my approach to this. (Editor’s Note: You delivered!)
174 – Myles Amine, I began to get a little upset when the runner up in the Big Ten to the defending national champ (by a point no less), was seeded fifth. Then the realization sets in that there are three undefeated wrestlers at this weight class, and the guy seeded fourth beat Amine once this season. So here we are. Amine burst onto the scene last year with a fourth place finish as a freshman. Even as a big Michigan fan, I didn’t really know what to expect from him last season, but my goodness it was refreshing and fun to watch. Amine is good in every position. He has a couple good attacks, finishes at a high rate, he’s excellent on top, is creative and dangerous on bottom, and all that has gotten better as the year has gone on. I’m a positive guy, so lets focus on the positives. He had never beaten Bo Jordan before this year, and he’s now beaten him two consecutive times. He has two losses to Mark Hall, but both by one point. He wrestled Zahid EARLY in the year, and lost a 4-2 match, and seemingly is peaking at the right time. He’ll most likely have a chance to avenge his loss to Jordan Kutler in the quarter finals on his way to a rematch with Zahid, and a trip to the finals on the line. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but to the casual fan, a 2018 174 pound NCAA Champ, Myles Amine, should be something they strongly consider.
184 – Dominic Abounader, It’s great to have Dom back in the lineup, with one final chance to AA. It’s really an amazing thing. He’s never placed worse than third in the Big Ten tournament in his four years competing in it. He has five losses this year, sure, but one of them is to Penn State’s Bo Nickal (though I’d argue for that to be a win, you know, because of the takedowns), three are to Ohio State’s Myles Martin (he’s really good), and one to Ryan Preisch (Lehigh), who are the three guys ranked higher than he is. Dom got stuck as the five seed, with the four going to Pete Renda of NC State, but that’s fine. They should meet in the quarters regardless, with Dom punching his ticket as an All American and making his way to a rematch with Bo. It will be interesting to see how that match unfolds, but Dom has proven he can get to his attacks against Bo. After Dom finishes out his exceptional career in the Maize and Blue, I anticipate highly touted freshman Jelani Embree to step in at 184 and pick up where Dom has been in the starting lineup for the better part of half a decade.
197 – Kevin Beazley, A graduate transfer and returning All American from Old Dominion University, and Michigan native, it was extremely exciting news to have Kevin transferring to Michigan for his remaining year of eligibility. We learned quickly to refer to him as Big Move/Match Beazley. He started the year off by winning the MSU Open by pinning Wisconsin’s Hunter Ritter in just more than a minute. Kevin had some head-scratching losses, but he’d also come through in the big moments with a win over Cash Wilcke in a big dual against Iowa, which proved to be the difference in the meet. He pinned 10th ranked Corey Greico of Oregon State in the first period and appeared to be hitting his stride at the Big Ten tournament with more wins over Ritter (by pin again), Wilcke, and pushing Kollin Moore (Ohio State) in the semifinals. Sadly, his season, and collegiate career ended due to injury as he wrestled Ritter, again, in the third and fourth place match. Beazley composed a very well written post for social media, sharing his affinity for both programs, how wrestling has given him the chance to earn two degrees, and thanking his parents for making it to each and every one of his matches (which is darn impressive). It was a blast watching Kevin compete throughout his career at both schools, achieve All American honors last season, and we wish him luck in his future. With respect to the future of the Wolverines, I believe we will see Jackson Striggow step back into the starting lineup at 197, but thankfully we have several tough freshmen to, as well as incoming Mason Paris, to push them, though I anticipate Paris will more than likely be a heavyweight in college. Speaking of heavyweight…
285 – Adam Coon, It’s tough to think of a world where Coon isn’t the heavyweight for Michigan. In fact, I truly hate the idea of it. Last year was one thing, but we knew he was going to return, and so that was okay to deal with. The history of Michigan at heavyweight is a great one. We’ve always had tough guys in the lineup, from Kirk Trost, to Matt “The Truck” Brink, to Greg Wagner, and now we have Adam Coon. I’ll never forget when he burst onto the scene by winning the Cliff Keen Invite as a freshman with a win over Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State), the eventual national champ, followed by a win over defending two-time champ, Tony Nelson (Minnesota). I also remember Coon taking third in the country with a torn labrum, beating Ty Walz (Virginia Tech), but ending up behind Snyder and Gwiz. This year, he did what many thought was impossible (and by many, I mean just about the entire world) and beat Kyle Snyder (Ohio State). Snyder avenged the loss in the Big Ten finals, but it was a battle, one that everyone who is a fan of wrestling is looking forward to watching for a third time. At NCAAs, both of these guys are expected to make the finals and both have essentially faced everyone who they could face en route to the finals. I’m hoping Coon has a chance to wrestle Amar Dhesi (Oregon State), who beat him for what ended up being the Junior world freestyle championship a couple years back. The culmination of Adam Coon’s redemption tour WILL be great to watch, and I’m looking forward to it! The post Coon lineup for Michigan should include highly recruited Mason Paris who could very well be the next great Michigan Heavyweight.
There is a lot to be excited about as a Michigan fan, and to keep an eye out for as a casual fan. I expect Michigan to walk away from this tournament with a trophy of some kind, and possibly have several champs, or at least top two finishes. All in all, it was a great year for the Wolverines, and as I’ve tried to outline, even at the weights with people graduating or struggling, there is hope for the future and depth in their room. I hope to see you all in Cleveland, and Rock On.