The Daily Northwestern

Wrestling: Wildcats face transfer for first time since Northwestern departure

Mitch Sliga pins an opponent. The junior will look to lead his team against a Michigan lineup headlined by a former teammate.

Mitch Sliga pins an opponent. The junior will look to lead his team against a Michigan lineup headlined by a former teammate.

Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Mitch Sliga pins an opponent. The junior will look to lead his team against a Michigan lineup headlined by a former teammate.

Dan Waldman, Assistant Sports Editor

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In 2014, Northwestern’s recruiting class was the fifth best in the nation, featuring highly-touted prospects such as No. 3 overall recruit Bryce Brill, No. 12 prospect Johnny Sebastian and No. 19 wrestler Stevan Micic.

But just three years after locking up one of the most promising recruiting classes in program history, only Sebastian remains on the roster. Brill became a graduate assistant after lingering injuries ended his career, and Micic transferred to Michigan after one year at NU. When the Wildcats (6-3, 1-2 Big Ten) host the Wolverines (4-3, 1-3) on Sunday, NU will face Micic for the first time since he left the program.

“This sort of thing happens in wrestling,” NU coach Matt Storniolo said about the transfer. “It’s been a year and a half removed at this point. It won’t be awkward for me; I can’t speak for him, but for us it’s not going to be too bad.”

Micic, who is the No. 4 wrestler in the 133-pound weight class and won Big Ten co-wrestler of the week honors last week, is one of four top-10 wrestlers scattered throughout No. 15 Michigan’s roster.

Cats 133-pound redshirt-freshman Jason Ipsarides joined the program the year Micic left and didn’t have the opportunity to meet his predecessor, whom he’ll face Sunday as an underdog. But Ipsarides is coming off one of his best performances of the season, recording a vital pin in the team’s last dual against Michigan State.

Junior 184-pounder Mitch Sliga, who is the only starter left from the 2014-2015 season, said it will be weird seeing Micic on the other side of the mat.

“This will be our first time seeing him since he transferred,” Sliga said. “It will definitely be a strange thing to see, but good luck to him, and we’re going to take Ipsarides over him.”

Along with NU, the Wolverines boast one of the youngest lineups in the country, starting six freshman wrestlers. However, the freshman unit has excelled thus far and includes three of the team’s four ranked wrestlers.

Senior 197-pound wrestler Jacob Berkowitz is the most veteran starter for the Cats, racking up five years of wrestling experience at NU. Berkowitz has seen Michigan develop its program with talented, young prospects over the years and said he is seeing the same approach with his own program.

“They have a really good program and a great coaching staff,” Berkowitz said. “They bring in good guys, not to say we’re not doing the same. I think that it’s going to be a really close match when it comes around, and I’m excited to see how our young guys handle that pressure.”

But Storniolo highlighted differences between the two programs, pointing to a Michigan lineup that is far more experienced than it seems on paper.

Between Olympic redshirts and transfers like Micic, the coach said the Wolverines’ lineup is far more seasoned than the roster suggests.

“Some of those guys are actually a year older than their eligibility says they are because of Olympic redshirts,” Storniolo said. “And one of the young guys is doing pretty well — part of the reason is we did a decent job with him here at Northwestern.”

Twitter: @dan_waldman