Cats open season with strong showing

Matt Forman

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Northwestern entered the season with five wrestlers ranked in the top 15 of their respective weight classes. And after an impressive opening weekend, it’s safe to say that the Wildcats did not disappoint, as three wrestlers left the Eastern Michigan Open in Ypsilanti, Mich., with individual titles Saturday.

Senior Mike Tamillow, ranked third in the nation at 197 pounds, won five consecutive matches Saturday as an unattached wrestler. Tamillow defeated Joe Williams in the championship of his weight class. Just a season ago Tamillow had a team-high 37 wins and only five losses. In dual meets Tamillow went 16-3 en route to a Big Ten championship and seventh-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Redshirt sophomore Dominic Marella, who wrestled at 165 pounds, beat NCAA quarterfinalist Justin Fraga of Purdue and then defeated Luke Manuel 3-2 in the championship. Marella, arguably, was the most impressive NU wrestler of the opening weekend due to his improvement from last season. Marella went 6-17 overall and 4-13 in dual matches last season, but he said he feels his record was not an accurate depiction of his abilities.

“Last year my weight was out of control before the season started,” Marella said. “Despite that, I started out pretty well, but I tore my hamstring halfway into the season. At that point I didn’t win another match the rest of the season. I’m a good wrestler and I know that. I have something to prove this season.”

Sophomore Brandon Precin also stood out for NU at 125 pounds. It is a comfortable spot for Precin, who wrested every dual for the Cats at 125 pounds last season. Precin, ranked 15th nationally in his weight class, won five consecutive matches and then won 10-1 in the championship.

For Precin, starting the season on a high note was of the utmost importance.

“It’s a great feeling to do well since I have higher goals than finishing sixth at nationals (like) last season,” he said. “The only goal I have is to finish the season as national champion, so this is a good start.”

But while the first meet of the season was highlighted by individual efforts, wrestling is both an individual and team sport. Expectations are certainly high as Amateur Wrestling News ranked NU fourth in the country. Despite its top-5 ranking, the team won’t be the same without NCAA champion Jake Herbert. Herbert is taking the season off to train for the Olympics after becoming the first Wildcats wrestler in 17 years to win an NCAA championship. Herbert’s 184-pound weight class won’t be an easy hole to fill.

“We have two wrestlers filling in there right now,” Tim Cysewski said. “Adil Kolovic and Mark Graves will share the duty for now, and we don’t have a number-one guy. That will be determined in these opening tournaments. It will be good to get these guys some experience.”

Missing Herbert will certainly hurt, but NU has great depth throughout its roster. Seniors Ryan Lang (141) and Dustin Fox (heavyweight) are ranked on top of their respective weight classes and each is expected to compete for the national championship. Lang finished last season with a 23-7 record. He earned All-America honors for the second consecutive year and won the Big Ten championship while placing second at the NCAA championships. Fox posted an impressive 33-5 record, which included a 6-1 mark in the Big Ten. Fox finished third at the NCAA championships and was an All-America selection after finishing the season on a 14-match winning streak.

With so much talent and such high expectations, Cysewski said he is confident in the direction the Cats are headed.

“We always tell the guys, don’t make these opening tournaments your best performance of the season, it’s just a small stepping stone to the Big Ten championship and NCAA’s,” he said. “As long as we keep improving, though, the sky is the limit.”

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