By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern
In perhaps the biggest regular season tournament of the season, Northwestern was left without its most dominant wrestler.
But even without the nation’s top-ranked 184-pounder, Jake Herbert, who was suspended because of a violation of team rules, the Wildcats managed a third-place finish in the 44th annual Midlands Championships, held in Evanston on Dec. 29-30.
The No. 8 Cats finished behind Iowa State (154.5 points) and Iowa (107) with a 102-point score.
The finish was NU’s highest since the second year of the tournament.
“It’s the highest finish we’ve had in 43 years, and we didn’t have everybody in the lineup that we wanted,” coach Tim Cysewski said. “Finishing third is nice, but I think we could definitely challenge for a championship both at the Midlands and at the NCAA’s, and this tournament shows that we can do that.”
Ryan Lang, the No. 1 141-pound wrestler in the country, who was named “BigElevenWrestling.net Big Ten Wrestler of the Week” on Dec. 25, won his weight class as expected.
He was joined by 197-pound Mike Tamillow as an individual champion, the first time since 1964 that the Cats have had two individual champions at the Midlands.
For Tamillow, ranked eighth nationally going into the tournament, the Midlands represented a chance to display his talents and succeed on a national scale.
“I’ve been waiting for a chance to prove myself, and I did as well as I expected, but I just expect to get better,” Tamillow said. “This is one of those tournaments where everybody’s watching, everybody knows about it, and that’s just something that’s fun. It adds to the excitement.”
Also placing highly for NU were top-seeded heavyweight Dustin Fox, who was the runner-up in his weight class, unseeded Eric Metzler, who finished fifth at 133 pounds, and true freshman Brandon Precin, who finished eighth at 125 pounds.
“Eric did a nice job,” Cysewski said. “He showed that he can compete at this level nationally – not just regionally and not just in the Big Ten, but nationally. So I’m pretty proud of him and also in Brandon Precin at 125.
“He’s a true freshman and he did a tremendous job-he was one point away from being in the finals. But he placed in a very tough weight class as a true freshman. Metzler is a redshirt freshman so we’ve got two freshmen placing at a tournament like this, which mirrors the NCAA championships.”
Still, many are left to wonder how high the team could have finished with Herbert.
But even the suspension comes with a silver lining.
“It was cut and dry, but it’s always a tough decision,” said Cysewski of his decision. “You prevented him from winning a possible third title, prevented the team from potentially winning the tournament, which I think we could have with him in there.
“But I think it’s made the team more aware of themselves and made the younger kids step up and do more … It made the team mature and that’s an important thing.”
Tamillow echoed similar sentiments.
“More than anything, when Herbert got suspended it forced us to come back together,” Tamillow said. “It’s those natural things that pull us apart that we’ve got to overcome, and I think that more than anything, yeah he missed a few matches, but he’s still going to wrestle as hard as he can and together we’re going to do it.”
Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]