In the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, Michigan wrestler Myles Amine won a bronze medal for San Marino at 189 pounds.
Amine, representing the small republic in central Italy, became the University of Michigan's second-ever Olympic wrestling medalist. Amine is a seventh-year senior for the Wolverines and now the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Wrestling Championships at the 184-weight class.
In a normal college career, Amine might not even be wrestling this week, but he was able to take an extra year of eligibility to come back and leave everything on the mat for a chance at individual and team titles. He has finished fourth once and taken third in the NCAA tournament over his career, but hasn't been able to get the win.
Amine has one last shot to lay everything on the line and come away with a win for himself and his team. This year's tournament starts on Thursday at noon on ESPNU, and Amine and his teammates are looking to secure their first NCAA championship.
He pulled off a miraculous win in the Big Ten tournament this season, beating 2021 NCAA champion Aaron Brooks from Penn State in overtime. He's one of two Wolverines, along with Nick Suriano, who are 1-seeds in their divisions with a great chance at coming out on top.
Suriano started his career at Penn State, transferred to Rutgers, where he won an individual title, then transferred to Michigan, where he's looking to repeat the same result.
For Amine, who grew up in Brighton, Michigan, and wrestled for Detroit Catholic Central, winning a national title in front of a home crowd at Little Caesar's Arena would serve as a storybook ending to an excellent career.
He's one of many unique storylines to watch in the NCAA tournament. Here is a look at what to watch for and what might happen throughout the week.
This is a loaded tournament, filled with seniors
This tournament might be more unique than any other we've seen in the past, because NCAA athletes were given the opportunity to take an extra year of eligibility due to the restrictions from COVID-19.
Some wrestlers have taken a normal redshirt, some have also taken an Olympic redshirt and some have taken medical redshirts. There is an opportunity for athletes such as Amine to participate in their seventh year, and potentially an eighth year depending on the circumstances. Having so many experienced wrestlers in the field could make this one of the more exciting tournaments in quite some time.
In addition to the experience, technique and overall ability, that it's the end of the line for so many wrestlers also means it will be an emotional tournament.
"With wrestling, you can't go to the NBA or the NFL afterward, most aren't going pro in wrestling," said Kevin Claunch, a wrestling analyst at the website Bloodround.com. "Even the guys with hopes of winning Olympic or world medals are all back this year, because they have one last chance at becoming an All-American, winning a national championship or a team title. So this is the deepest that the NCAA wrestling tournament has ever been, or likely will ever be."
Gable Steveson should win it all
Wrestling at the 285-weight class for Minnesota, Gable Steveson is one of the more talked about wrestlers in the tournament. His combination of size, physicality and technique have him as the far and away No. 1 seed in his division.
Stevenson won an Olympic gold medal this past August in Tokyo after trailing Georgia's Geno Petriashvili 8-5. He had two takedowns in the final 15 seconds, including one with under a second left to win the title, and now he has a shot to win it all in the NCAA tournament.
Claunch says Steveson is head and shoulders above the competition this week.
"The way he beats (his competition), he is so unbelievably good, that he takes these other guys who are some of the best in the world and makes it look like they just started wrestling," Claunch said. "When you get guys that are this big and this good, sometimes you get a really big athlete who we're going to make a wrestler. He's a wrestler who also happens to also be a really good athlete. His technique is unreal and he's so athletic, but he's a wrestler first."
While most other wrestlers might not go pro after this, Steveson has already signed an NIL deal with the WWE to eventually become a pro wrestler.
Steveson has even been able to learn from WWE star Brock Lesnar along the way as he trained and prepared for the NCAA tournament.
"When you're a kid, you don't really know how to make it to the WWE, but when I got to the University of Minnesota, I learned how Brock went about things and how to make connections," Gable told Gopher Sports. "My relationship with Brock has been awesome. It's outstanding that a guy like that has noticed me and has gone out of his way to be there for me and guide me in the right direction."
The Big Ten once again has the upper hand
The Big Ten has far and away the most wrestlers competing in the NCAA tournament. Its 88 wrestlers are 30 more than the next closest conference (Big 12), and 46 more than the next closest with the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
The conference has seven wrestlers ranked as 1-seeds, including Steveson from Minnesota at 285 pounds, Amine (184) and Suriano (125) from Michigan and Penn State's Max Dean (197), Carter Starocci (174), Nick Lee (141) and Roman Bravo-Young (133).
The Big Ten is typically the best conference in the sport and this season is no different.
Don't count out the Ivy League
While the Big Ten has the most 1-seeds, the Ivy League wrestlers didn't participate last season because of COVID-19.
There is a chance for some of the Ivy League wrestlers to take some by surprise and make noise in the tournament given that no one saw them last season. Yianni Diakomihalis, the 1-seed in the 149-pound weight class from Cornell, has won two national titles and was a representative in the world championships last year, and has a real shot at a third championship.
"He didn't wrestle last year because he took an Olympic redshirt and because Cornell didn't compete," Claunch said. "So, he's returning this year, he's beaten everybody handily, and he's just far and away the No. 1 guy at that weight."
Diakomihalis is going to have a tough road, including having to deal with Wisconsin's Austin Gomez, who pinned Ridge Lovett in 20 seconds in the Big Ten tournament. Diakomihalis is the favorite, though, and if the tournament goes as many predict it will, he will find himself with another title.