Grapplers Take On The Big Ten (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

This weekend, 10 of the nation’s top-25 teams will meet in East Lansing, Mich., for the Big Ten Championships.

Among them will be the nation’s unanimous No. 1, Minnesota, and No. 15 Northwestern.

NU finished the regular season with victories over unranked Purdue and No. 23 Michigan, giving the Wildcats a record of 13-8 (3-5 Big Ten), good for eighth in the Big Ten.

But NU figures to finish better in the tournament now that it has all its top wrestlers competing. Starting with the Midlands Championships held Dec. 28-29, NU missed either top-ranked Jake Herbert (Midlands), top-ranked Ryan Lang (out Jan. 13-Feb. 4), or sixth-ranked Mike Tamillow (out against Indiana Feb. 11) every match until the wins over Purdue and Michigan.

Also, a tournament format will likely favor the Cats over the regular-season dual format. At the Midlands tournament, NU finished third overall without Herbert, behind No. 2 Iowa State and No. 10 Iowa.

“We match up very well as a tournament team,” coach Tim Cysewski said. “We’re very strong in a lot of our weight classes – from 74 through heavyweight we’re as good as anybody. 25, 33, 41, again, we’re as doing as good as anybody in the country.”

Herbert, who is coming off a 2006 Big Ten 174-pound championship, will hope to win again this year at 184 pounds.

In his last regular-season match of the year, Herbert wrestled what was by far his closest contest this season, beating Michigan’s No. 4 Tyrel Todd 10-8. The close match provides Herbert extra motivation heading into this weekend’s tournament.

“I feel like I gave (Todd) hope now, and on the wrestling mat I feel kind of like a bully,” Herbert said. “So I gave him hope and now it’s going to be that much more fun to take it away and crush his dream.”

Also with a chip on his shoulder is Tamillow, pre-seeded second in the tournament, who figures to eventually meet Penn State’s top-ranked Phil Davis, who beat Tamillow 8-2 on Feb. 2.

Tamillow feels more prepared and confident than ever. After 10 good days of practice after NU’s last dual meet, the 197-pound junior believes he will top Davis given the chance.

“I’m better than (Davis) on his feet by a mile,” Tamillow said, saying he was wrestled unwisely the first time around. “He can’t stop me.”

Lang may also have something to prove after he was pre-seeded second at 141 pounds behind Minnesota’s Manuel Rivera, despite the fact Lang is ranked first and Rivera second nationally.

However, Lang seemed not to care about the seeding and is just ready to wrestle.

“I’m not surprised,” Lang said. “What are you going to do? Who cares? I’m going to go out and win anyway. Three matches are three matches.”

The weekend will be one of firsts for 125-pound true freshman Brandon Precin, ranked 19th nationally and pre-seeded sixth for the tournament.

Both Precin and 133-pound redshirt freshman Eric Metzler expect to qualify for the NCAA Championships. While Cysewski has tried to keep the freshmen loose, knowing they need no reminders of the importance of the Big Ten Championships, the freshmen can at times be a source of inspiration to upperclassmen.

“I think Brandon believes (in himself) more than almost anybody,” Tamillow said. “He talks about being a national champ and everything the day he walks in here. So when I look at him, I say ‘that’s inspiring for an upperclassman,’ as opposed to me trying to inspire him.”

Redshirt junior Nick Hayes, who also competed in the Big Ten Championships as a true freshman, will return to the competition for the first time since 2004.

Hayes suffered an injury that kept him out of the tournament as a sophomore in 2005 and redshirted in 2006.

After posting an 18-11 record (4-4), Hayes is pre-seeded sixth and also expects to qualify for nationals. In arguably one of the nation’s toughest weight classes, 174 pounds, Hayes has very nearly knocked off some of the nation’s top wrestlers, including a 5-3 OT loss to Michigan’s No. 6 Steve Luke in Hayes’ last match of the regular season.

While Hayes and all of NU’s individual wrestlers will be focused on qualifying for the NCAA Championships, as a team the Cats expect to have perhaps their best showing in years.

“We could be right in there,” Cysewski said. “We could surprise a lot of people.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]