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A Day before March Matness: Pre-tourney notes on the 2022 NCAAs
Photo: The inside of Little Caesars Arena is ready for fans to attend the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships in Detroit, Mich., this Thursday through Saturday after the 2020 NCAAs were cancelled and the 2021 Nationals limited fans.
By Mike Finn
The start of the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are just hours away and here are a few stories to get you ready for three days of competition.
Myles Amine and David Carr are more than just NCAA Division I wrestlers trying to win individual championship for Michigan and Iowa State, respectively, this week in Detroit. They are also living legacies at their schools.
Amine, a graduate student who has already earned four All-American honors for the Wolverines, is the son of Mike Amine, a four-year letter-winner and 1989 NCAA finalist for Michigan. Mike is also the father of Malik Amine, who also wrestled for the Maize and Blue between 2014 and 2019. Myles’ cousins — Cameron, a current 165-pound starter for Michigan and Jordan (2015-18) — also have Wolverine roots and are the sons of Sam Amine, who wrestled for Michigan, 1988-90.
“Six of us have come through this program and it’s been very special,” said Myles, a Detroit native, the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds at the 2022 NCAAs who is in his seventh year with the Wolverine program after the NCAA allowed athletes from 2020-21 another year of eligibility. “I’m like Father Time, but I try to keep all that aside and make this my own wrestling journey. My dad has told me that it’s important, that it’s a legacy, but when you go out there to wrestle, you wrestle by yourself.”
Carr, who won an NCAA title last year as a sophomore, is the son of Nate Carr a former three-time (1981-83) NCAA champ for the Cyclones and who later won an Olympic bronze medal in freestyle.
“We were working out the other day and he was talking about the NCAAs and the intensity. It was really cool,” said David, a native of Ohio who is seeded No. 1 at 157 pounds. “I’m just blessed to wear a Cyclone singlet. I love competing and the NCAAs are like a candy shop. There are so many great competitors and I’m super-pumped to go out and compete and add onto the legacy.”
The 2022 NCAA Division I Championships, which begins Thursday morning and ends Saturday night with the finals, gives each family one more chance to remind everyone the merits of a of a famous wrestling last name.
When one hears the Amine surname, what should be think about?
“Michigan wrestling,” responded current Wolverine coach Sean Bormet, who was first introduced to the Amine family when he was recruited out of Illinois to come to Ann Arbor. And it continued once he became a Wolverine coach eight years ago and he helped recruit the more recent Amines.
“It’s been a special journey with the Amine family,” said Bormet, a native of Illinois, who came to Ann Arbor in 1989 and wrestled for five years. He later returned as an assistant in 2011 and was promoted as head coach in 2018. The current team recently won its first Big Ten title since 1973 and hopes to capture the school’s first-even NCAA title in Little Caesars Arena this week.
“Mike was part of my recruiting process,” said Bormet. “When I was a senior in high school, Mike was a graduating senior and played an instrumental part of me coming to Michigan. Sam Amine and I were on teams together at Michigan and we were around the same weight. When I was a freshman, Sam was one of the guys I loved training with.
“Those guys were huge supporters of mine when I was a student athlete and I always stayed in touch with them over the years and then they started having kids. And the opportunity to coach their kids, it doesn’t get any better.”
Don’t forget Gable Steveson
Growing up with the first name of Gable — famous in collegiate wrestling circles for the legendary Iowa coach — the Minnesota heavyweight also hopes to make his entire name — Gable Steveson — one that wrestling fans will never forget.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Steveson, who will say goodbye to amateur wrestling this week after he spent the 2021 calendar year winning an NCAA championship last March in St. Louis and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Japan, last summer. “I want to make sure everyone watches a good show. I just love the sport of wrestling, which has made me a better human, a better wrestler, a better everything. I want to make sure I put my big heart out there and everyone sees who Gable Steveson is.”
Steveson, who shared the Dan Hodge Trophy with Iowa’s Spencer Lee (who is injured this season), is seeded No. 1 at heavyweight. With a 13-0 record this winter, the Gopher enters his final national tournament with an 85-2 record and a 47-match winning streak.
Changes to NCAA Qualifiers
Much was made about Iowa’s decision to have three of its wrestlers medically forfeit matches at the 2022 Big Ten Championships: by Jaydin Eierman (141) and Anthony Cassioppi (Hwt) in the championship matches and by Michael Kemerer in the Big Ten semifinals.
While most people understand the need to rest injured wrestlers, who have already qualified for the national tournament, one must ask if the qualifiers should continue to be considered conference championships when coaches are forced to rest wrestlers … and if the NCAA should balance its qualifying tournaments out more in regards to the number of teams. Currently, the Big Ten tournament features 14 teams while the ACC and Pac-12 held events with six teams.
“I think we have seen a trend with the medical forfeits,” said Bormet. “This year there were a lot of glaring issues that we have to look at and address within the sport. There are some valid reasons why this is happening. We have a lot of smart coaches who are trying to do the best thing for athletes. We don’t want to incentivize that system in our sport. It does not make sense in the big picture.”
Iowa coach Tom Brands agrees that “we need to look at it, maybe closer. I don’t necessarily have the answers. We do make individual decisions that are best for our individuals. Our jobs as coaches, that’s where our priority is always, and we will let the rules makers make it better. This sport is in a good place but could be in better place.”
NC State coach Pat Popolizio, whose Wolfpack won a fourth-straight ACC championship two weeks ago, would like the NCAA qualifiers to continue as a conference championship.
“With the system right now, there are a lot of positives in having a conference tournament, where our fans enjoy us competing for conference championships,” said Popolizio. “It would be interesting to see if they ever moved to a more regional setting. Either way, you have to take care of your athletes and put them in the right position that is helpful for this tournament.”
“Coaches are trying to do what’s best for their athletes and ensure they qualify for the national tournament,” said Arizona State coach Zeke Jones. “Until we do something with the qualification system, you are going to see that happen. I wouldn’t blame any coach for doing what’s best for their athletes.”
Go West, NCAA Wrestling
When Zeke Jones took over the Arizona State program in 2015, the Sun Devils were coming out of the threat of being discontinued. The same thing happened last year when Stanford nearly dropped its program but changed its mind after Shane Griffith won the 165-pound championship. This year, Cal Poly has one of its better teams with a No. 1 seed in Evan Wick.
Jones firmly believes that college wrestling will grow out West.
“(NCAA wrestling director) Anthony Holman recently said the NCAA does not look at the West as a dying area, but a growth opportunity because we know that youth wrestling is very strong on the West Coast,” Jones said. “If you look to the West, there can be a tremendous growth opportunity, where we can grow the options for the kids in the West to be able to wrestle on the college level.”
Arizona State is also mentioned as possibly the next NCAA Div. I Power 5 program to introduce a women’s wrestling program, similar to what Iowa announced this winter.
Jones believes that women’s wrestling could also have an impact on bringing men’s wrestling programs back to other Pac-12 programs that dropped men’s wrestling because of the Title IX impact.
“I think women’s college wrestling is really going to grow on the West first,” said Jones. “We are seeing it everywhere and California women’s wrestling is so strong right now. With the Sunkist Kids (wrestling club) based in Phoenix and its strong women’s wrestling presence, women’s wrestling at Arizona State would be a natural.”