NU To Close Tough Big Ten Season (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

Ten teams in the top 25. Five in the top 11. Six out of 10 top-ranked individual wrestlers.

Big Ten wrestling boasts a different level of competition than arguably any other conference in any sport. Northwestern has had to fight through the brutal Big Ten schedule short-handed in every match, missing No. 1 141-pounder Ryan Lang in the first five matches and No. 7 197-pounder Mike Tamillow in last weekend’s loss to then-No. 22 Indiana.

NU will complete its Big Ten schedule with home duals against Purdue on Friday and No. 23 Michigan on Sunday. The Cats will hope to gain momentum going into the Big Ten and NCAA championships in the matches.

The Big Ten’s high level of competition is due largely to the region it finds itself in. The Midwest is steeped in a tradition of superior wrestling for the basic reason that wrestling is more popular in the Midwest than any other region of the country.

NU coach Tim Cysewski sees the sport as perfect for the Midwest, citing the region’s blue-collar attitude and the need for an alternative to football and basketball for many athletes.

The Big Ten’s prestigious tradition attracts the nation’s top recruits, many of whom come from the Midwest, strengthening the conference further. What results is the most intense wrestling found in the college ranks.

“Because every school is very good … the rivalries are pretty intense,” Cysewski said. “It’s a matter of one match in a dual meet will dictate if you win a dual meet or not. So there’s a lot of pride involved.”

Rivalries are plentiful in the Big Ten, and individual wrestlers often face the same opponent several times a year.

Top-ranked 184-pounder Jake Herbert, for example, faces the nation’s second, third and fourth-ranked wrestlers in his weight class in Big Ten competition. Because he wrestles each of them in the regular Big Ten season, Big Ten championships, Midlands championships and NCAA championships, Herbert could end up competing against the nation’s best four or five times each this season.

The familiarity between wrestlers adds a new dimension to matches.

“Big Ten match, it’s a rival match,” Herbert said. “You know you’re going to see (a wrestler) four years … you want to get that win on him then, so you can get in their head that ‘You’re not better than me. I’m better than you.'”

The in-conference competition NU wrestlers face make non-conference matches almost seem easy.

When asked what the difference between a match in the Big Ten and a non-conference one might be, 174-pounder Nick Hayes answered “about 10 points.”

Wildcat wrestlers backed up such attitudes in the ACC/Big Ten Clash held in November. NU helped the Big Ten go undefeated in the event, beating Virginia, North Carolina and NC State a combined 91-30.

“The other guys out of conference, they just can’t hang with our speed of the match,” Hayes said. “They’re not used to guys who are as physical as we are, as good of shape as we are.”

When the Big Ten season concludes with the conference tournament March 3-4, NU wrestlers, like all Big Ten grapplers, will be well-prepared for the NCAA championships two weeks later.

After all, they’ll have already finished the toughest part of the season.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]