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Wrestling: Wildcats face duo of duals on Saturday

Lee Munster takes the mat in a dual against Michigan last season. Munster has started this year with a 5-0 record in one dual and one tournament.

Ben Breuner/Daily File Photo

Ben Breuner/Daily File Photo

Lee Munster takes the mat in a dual against Michigan last season. Munster has started this year with a 5-0 record in one dual and one tournament.

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

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Although most students tasted their first bit of home last week during Thanksgiving break, No. 13 Northwestern has yet to enjoy the friendly confines of its home arena.

All of that changes this Saturday when the Wildcats (1-0) make their home debut at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Stevens Tech and Duke.

For its first home event, NU will wrestle two opponents back-to-back, with the Ducks (0-1) and Blue Devils (0-0) also wrestling each other for the night’s third bout

The Cats’ last event should serve them well for Saturday’s test. NU last faced action in the Keystone Classic, a tournament the Cats won by more than 50 points and and in which they saw wrestlers compete numerous times over the course of one day. On Saturday, each wrestler will only have to hit the mat twice.

“It tests your conditioning level,” coach Drew Pariano said. “It’s a challenge. Both of those teams, you have to be ready. They have good guys up and down their lineup.”

In its only dual of the season against Stanford, NU won every match except one. But with weeks of practice in between as well as an early season tournament, health can become nearly as much of a factor as the opponent later in a grinding season.

“The important thing is to not to let the season wear on you,” Pariano said. “I think we’re doing a good job of that. We run good, focused practices. We’re where we need to be, but we want to keep increasing our technique and fitness.”

Stevens Tech will come to Evanston with two tournaments and a dual under its belt. The Ducks lost their only dual but performed decently in their two tournaments, placing eighth at the Roger Williams Invitational and sixth at the Doug Parker Invitational.

Duke already saw some of NU earlier this season, as the Blue Devils also participated in the Keystone Classic, finishing seventh in the 15-team tournament with four wrestlers placing.

The Cats will have three wrestlers who can extend their undefeated mark on the season so far on Saturday, with redshirt senior Jason Welch and sophomore Pierce Harger at 6-0, and sophomore Lee Munster at 5-0.

Welch’s regular season dominance traces back to last season, when he failed to drop a single bout during dual play. An added challenge for the All-American this weekend will be to focus on the task at hand instead of looking ahead on the schedule to Cats’ next dual against Minnesota — the start of Big Ten play.

“I’m excited that Big Ten season is starting soon,” Welch said. “You wrestle so often it’s all about competing. It’s tough to keep focusing just on what’s ahead of you.”

Munster, on the other hand, has a much narrower focus.

“You always look to the end of the week to what duals you have,” Munster said. “It’s not hard. You wait until the week of to start thinking of what dual we actually have.”

For Pariano, whose team will be favored heavily in both its duals Saturday night, the goal will be for each wrestler to improve individually in each of their matches, including finishing better and scoring better wins.

But even with room for improvement, Welch, the elder statesman, has liked what he’s seen from the young NU team so far in the season.

“I’ve been really satisfied,” Welch said. “To me, it would be great to win a national title for myself, but to see the team succeed, that means more to me.”