After making it through the first two months of the season with a 5-2 record and a No. 16 ranking in the nation, the Wildcats will embark on a tough Big Ten schedule with two huge matches over the weekend.
Northwestern will be thrown into the fire when it opens its conference schedule tonight on the road against Minnesota, ranked No. 1 in the nation. After a day off, the Cats will wrestle again at No. 22 Wisconsin.
NU will try to improve on last season’s 2-6 conference record. The Cats’ two Big Ten victories were their first since 2000.
“All the schools in the Big Ten are very good. There’s not a weak team in the conference,” coach Tim Cysewski. “There’s a lot at stake.”
Minnesota took over the top spot in the polls after its victory over then No. 1 Oklahoma State at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals last weekend. The Golden Gophers are 12-0 and feature eight ranked wrestlers.
NU, which will send out six ranked wrestlers, will try to avenge last season’s 28-10 loss to the Gophers.
“Right now, Minnesota is wrestling very well,” Cysewski said. “Any time you go on the road and wrestle a Big Ten team you have to make sure you’re ready. They’re on a high right now and we want to burst their bubble.”
The premiere battle of the match figures to be in the heavyweight division. NU’s ninth-ranked sophomore Dustin Fox will try to unseat top-ranked junior Cole Konrad, who is 24-0 this season with 12 pins. Konrad is also fresh off a pin of Oklahoma State’s two-time NCAA Champion Steve Mocco at the National Duals.
NU is likely to be without the services of injured sophomore Ryan Lang, who is ranked sixth at 141 pounds. However, Lang is expected to return against Wisconsin.
For the Cats, sophomore Jake Herbert, ranked second at 174 pounds, will try to extend his 26-match winning streak against Minnesota’s 16th-ranked sophomore Gabriel Dretsch.
If Herbert survives that test, he will have an even greater one ahead of him when he faces ninth-ranked Wisconsin senior Kelly Flaherty on Sunday. Herbert will try to repeat the success he had against Flaherty last year when he won by pin.
Despite Herbert’s victory, the Cats still dropped a close match to the Badgers, 19-18.
Reach Andrew Simon at [email protected]