Wrestling: No. 10 Cats look to set tone for rest of conference season

Wade Askew

Five days after nearly knocking off Iowa, the No. 1 team in the country, No. 10 Northwestern will play host to a team that held the top ranking at the beginning of January, Penn State.

While the Nittany Lions (9-3, 1-1 Big Ten) have dropped to eighth in the polls, they are coming off a victory over No. 17 Indiana and knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma State on Dec. 9. Penn State also sends out a top-20 wrestler at every weight class other than 133 and 165.

Even though a 22-13 loss to No. 1 Iowa on Sunday did not help NU (5-5, 0-1 Big Ten) in the Big Ten standings, it allowed the team to see its potential early in the conference season.

“I wouldn’t say (it gave us) momentum, it just shows us where we are, how well we can do, how some of us can perform individually, top-ranked senior heavyweight Dustin Fox said.

The dual features a series of matchups between highly ranked opponents, including No. 5 Brandon Precin of NU against No. 10 Mark McKnight at 125 pounds and the Wildcats’ No. 4 Ryan Lang against No. 5 Bubba Jenkins. But the marquee match of the night will be between a pair of 197-pounders – No. 2 Mike Tamillow of NU and No. 3 Phil Davis of Penn State.

Tamillow, a senior who is only the 10th Cats wrestler to notch 100 career wins, earned All-America honors for the first time of his NU career last year. Davis is a three-time All-American who placed fifth in last year’s NCAA championships.

“We know each other pretty well, as far as wrestling goes,” Tamillow said of Davis. “There’s a little rivalry, but it’s a rivalry because we’re so much better than the rest of the (197-pound) group … not like we hate each other.”

Davis beat Tamillow when the two wrestled in 2007, but Tamillow has defeated Davis when they competed in freestyle wrestling.

As Tamillow’s college career is nearing its end, the senior can feel a new sense of urgency to overcome his friendly rival.

“It’s actually surprising that my senior year is almost done, because I’m like, ‘This is my top competition,'” Tamillow said. “I realize that I’m one of the best in the nation, and it’s my last year. It’s a little surreal in a way, but it’s just wrestling.”

With the Big Ten season in full swing, Tamillow and the Cats will focus on surging into March’s Big Ten and NCAA championships.

So while tonight’s matchup against Penn State represents just another dual, another opportunity to rise in the ultra-competitive Big Ten standings, its importance in setting a pace for the rest of the conference season is undeniable.

“You can’t stumble,” Cysewski said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ve got a do-over later.’ Everything means more now than it did the first four, five weeks of the season.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]