Fox’s perfect tournament spurs Cats (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

Dustin Fox plays the role of an anchor for No. 9 Northwestern, both in the sense that he wrestles at the end of the lineup, and that he’s downright big.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, Fox has proven to be a reliable anchor in the heavyweight division, providing peace of mind and, on Saturday at least, wins.

NU’s most exciting dual of last weekend’s National Duals tournament came against No. 8 Missouri, which finished one spot ahead of then-No. 4 NU in last year’s national championships. With the teams tied at 19, the heavyweight match between the top-ranked Fox and No. 12 Mark Ellis would determine the dual. Fox won 5-3.

“(Fox) is wrestling the best he’s ever wrestled,” coach Tim Cysewski said. “Especially being No. 1 in the country, there’s pressure there, but he’s been handling it very well, and it shows the maturity that he has.”

While the senior All-American has delivered in similar critical situations in the past, it is the calm confidence he displayed this time around that shows how far he has come.

Fox finished third in the nation a year ago and faced the pressure of inheriting the top ranking this season. While he was a two-time Ohio state champion and All-American in high school, Fox did not always handle his nerves so easily.

“I was always really nervous in my earlier years before wrestling matches – stupidly, in my opinion,” Fox said. “So age and experience has definitely helped calm me down before matches. I think I spent a lot of energy being nervous. … You just have to control what you can control.”

Fox did just that over the weekend, winning every match, including a 3-1 decision over No. 11 Ohio State’s second-ranked heavyweight J.D. Bergman. Still, the Cats dropped the dual 19-17.

NU won five of the dual’s 10 matches, but a heartbreaking overtime loss at 165 pounds proved to be the difference, as sophomore Dominic Marella fell to Colt Sponseller 6-4. Still, Fox and senior 149-pounder Ryan Lang, ranked fifth in his weight class, notched victories over top-10 opponents.

Overall, the Cats finished the weekend 2-3, with victories over Missouri and No. 16 UT-Chattanooga and losses to Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 4 Iowa State.

The loss to Iowa State came in the tournament’s seventh-place match. Again, NU won five of its matches, but a forfeit by 133-pound sophomore Eric Metzler cost the Cats six points. A high ankle sprain led coaches to hold Metzler out, despite his willingness to wrestle, and NU ultimately fell 26-15. Cysewski hopes to have Metzler healthy for the team’s first Big Ten dual, which will be on Jan. 27 against No. 2 Iowa.

Sophomore Brandon Precin continued his strong start to the season with a 4-1 record on the weekend, His only loss came in a controversial decision to No. 1 Paul Donahoe of Nebraska. While Precin may have had a legitimate complaint with the official who did not award him points on a take-down in the second period, he will have to wait at least a few more weeks to earn the top ranking in the nation at 125 pounds.

Fox, however, appears to have a stranglehold on his top ranking. He’s holding it for the first time in his career and has discovered the unique feeling that comes with being named the top heavyweight in the land.

“In college (being No. 1) is either a target sign or a great psychological advantage,” Fox said. “Being ranked No. 1 in the country is a really nice experience because people come after you, they wrestle you. … Some kids are like that, and other kids are nervous because they don’t go after me, and they run away. … Being No. 1 is kind of a mixed experience, but obviously it’s very positive – I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]