Loss drops Wildcats to 0-2 in Big Ten (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

In its Big Ten home opener, No. 10 Northwestern fell to No. 8 Penn State (10-4, 2-2 Big Ten) 18-15 Friday, dropping NU to 0-2 in conference duals.

The dual was decided after No. 13 184-pounder Phillip Bomberger broke a 15-15 tie by defeating Adil Kolovic in the dual’s final match. Also proving fatal to the Wildcats’ hopes was Tim Haas’ pin of Eric Metzler at 133 pounds. A pin is worth six points in a dual, double the worth of a regular decision.

Still, the dual had its bright spots for NU, including No. 3 197-pounder Mike Tamillow’s 6-1 victory over No. 2 Phil Davis of Penn State. The win avenged a loss to Davis a year ago and makes Tamillow the Big Ten favorite at 197 pounds.

“It’s a big win, but it’s not like I’ve never had one before,” Tamillow said. “I just wrestled well, and I got what I deserved. … I know how to wrestle him, I know how to beat him.”

NU coach Tim Cysewski called Tamillow the aggressor of the match and believes the win should help the senior take his performance “to the next level.” Presumably, the only “next level” for a grappler who just knocked off the No. 2 wrestler in the country is the No. 1 spot, currently held by American University’s defending champ, Josh Glenn.

The showdown at 197 pounds kicked off the dual and was followed by another victory at heavyweight by top-ranked Dustin Fox. Fox earned his 15th straight decision, 5-2, over No. 15 John Laboranti.

Fifth-ranked Brandon Precin, only a sophomore, continued NU’s hot start with a win over No. 10 Mark McKnight. The match spanned five overtime periods and was ultimately decided by a Precin takedown, earning the sophomore a 4-3 decision over Penn State’s fifth-year senior.

A third definitive victory for the Cats came at 141 pounds, courtesy of redshirt freshman Keith Sulzer. Unranked and mostly ignored just more than a week ago, Sulzer capped off the best week of his young career with a second victory over a top-10 opponent in five days.

After notching what was widely regarded as a stunning 9-3 upset over Iowa’s ninth-ranked Dan LeClere on Jan. 27, Sulzer defeated No. 10 Jake Strayer 5-3. Still, Cysewski is far from satisfied with his freshman’s performance.

“He’s not wrestling his best yet, which I guess is good, but at the same time, the Big Ten’s, we’re right in the middle of it,” Cysewski said. “So he’s got to wrestle better, improve, and the more he wins, the more confidence he’s going to get, the better he’s going to be.”

The match itself was a tough one, requiring an injury timeout for Sulzer after Strayer twisted Sulzer’s right knee, which required surgery earlier this season for a torn meniscus.

Sulzer came out of the timeout aggressively and outlasted Strayer for the decision. With his performance quickly turning heads throughout the conference, Sulzer will no longer enjoy his preferred under-the-radar status that caught LeClere and Strayer. That was evident when Sulzer checked themat.com, a national wrestling Web site, after the win over LeClere to find a thread devoted to him.

Still, with third-ranked Manuel Rivera of Minnesota coming to Evanston on Friday, Sulzer knows he must stay grounded.

“Next week I have another guy who’s ranked in the top 10 in the country, too, so I can’t sleep and not train hard,” Sulzer said. “I’ve got to get right back at it starting tomorrow.”

Those same words could be said for any of the freshman’s teammates, a group that seems to be resting on just the other side a breakthrough performance that hasn’t quite hit yet.

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