NU’s pattern continues: Big win, blowout loss

Robert Eccles

There is a troubling pattern developing for the Northwestern wrestling team.

After promising results Friday, the Wildcats invariably fall apart and suffer humiliating losses Sunday.

For instance, NU’s win over Eastern Illinois was followed by a 45-3 loss to No. 4 Iowa. And NU’s best performance in the Big Ten against No. 21 Penn State was followed by a 33-3 loss to No. 9 Ohio State.

And the pattern continued this past weekend: The Cats (4-11-1, 0-6 Big Ten) destroyed Marquette (1-8) by 35 points, 39-4, Friday; two days later they lost to No. 22 Indiana (14-5, 2-4) by 31 points, 37-6. The results have baffled the team.

“I don’t know what the hell happened,” said 157-pounder Jason Erwinski, a sophomore.

NU traveled to Indiana hoping to post its first conference win of the season, but the Hoosiers were in control from the get-go.

The match began at 149 pounds. Indiana senior Gabe Cook handily defeated NU’s leader in wins, freshman Ryan Cumbee. Next, Erwinski put the Cats on the board with an 8-3 win over Alex LaPointe.

Then the match moved toward the strength of the Hoosiers lineup, and No. 13 Kevin Stanley, No. 4 Viktor Sveda and No. 20 Ty Matthews all dominated. Indiana led 23-3.

NU’s lone bright spot was No. 16 Josh Saul, who persevered for a 2-1 win over Mike Dixon. Dixon dodged, stalled and waited for Saul to err, but NU’s heavyweight wouldn’t give in.

“Saul has been wrestling the most consistently,” NU coach Tim Cysewski said. “Josh is in great shape and doesn’t make mistakes.”

But the fact remains that the Cats could not excel on the road and compete with the Hoosiers.

“Indiana is nothing special,” Erwinski said. “Our young guys just got scared, and we kind of cracked.”

NU definitely didn’t crack against Marquette; instead the Cats had some fun.

For every meet, Marquette forfeits two weight classes, and the team has stomached even more embarrassing results than Friday’s against the Cats – consecutive 50-0 losses to Wyoming and No. 3 Michigan, to name two.

So NU eagerly awaited the matchup, and the team quickly took advantage of the Golden Eagles on Friday.

Eight Cats won, led by Erwinski and Cumbee. The more encouraging results came from younger wrestlers such as Andrew and Brendan Curran, both of whom were rewarded with wins.

Despite the convincing final margin, NU did not storm the mat and celebrate – the wrestlers knew they were supposed to win.

“We weren’t that happy with how we wrestled,” Erwinski said. “We should have blown them out by more. It was good to get a win, without a doubt, although we wanted to beat them up more.”

The Cats have one week remaining in the regular season, prompting some early postseason preparation. Despite the rough bumps and hard lumps of NU’s Big Ten season, the coaching staff remains optimistic about its young wrestlers.

Cats coaches have charted individual improvement over the course of the season, and Cysewski said he sees progress in practice among his five first-year wrestlers. Now, he said, it has to carry over into match play.

“We don’t have an easy weekend on our schedule,” Cysewski said. “All these guys at this level are state champs, and we just have to get used to that.

“It is a matter of them trusting they can win. Coaches would love to go out and wrestle for them, but we can’t. We can only prepare them.”