Team enters postseason confidently (Wrestling)

Wade Askew

After compiling an 8-9 record in the regular season, No. 13 Northwestern will kick off a “new season” Saturday at the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis.

Though the Big Ten dual season was important for individual wrestlers to earn pre-seeds in this weekend’s tournament, the Wildcats’ goals are ahead of them in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

It will take a top-seven individual finish for wrestlers to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, a minimum goal for every wrestler on the team.

“There’s a lot more riding on this tournament than the duals,” freshman 141-pounder Keith Sulzer said. “Mistakes in the dual season cost you a match, but here it can cost you the rest of the season if you screw up.”

Only a freshman, Sulzer will compete in the tournament for the first time in his career.

Ranked 14th in his weight class, Sulzer is pre-seeded seventh for the weekend despite a perfect Big Ten record. Sulzer has battled the injury bug throughout the season and expects to compete for a Big Ten title.

Sulzer downplayed his inexperience, pointing to the fact he comes from an elite high school program and has competed in countless tournaments in his career.

Still, coach Tim Cysewski values the veteran presence of the team’s five seniors, believing experience gives wrestlers an edge.

“(Experience) definitely gives them an advantage,” Cysewski said.

“They know what the intensity factor is going to be. It’s not like they’re going in there not knowing what’s at stake, where some of the first-timers, they might not really realize, ‘Wow, this is Big Tens, what’s it all about?’

“Our guys are pretty experienced, they know what’s expected of them, and they are prepared to win the matches.”

Defending Big Ten champion Mike Tamillow, pre-seeded first at 197 pounds, will be competing at the tournament for the last time in his career.

A year ago, Tamillow won the tournament as a two-seed and went on to earn All-America honors at the NCAA Championships.

The top seed gives Tamillow supreme confidence going into the weekend. While a year ago his title may have surprised some, including maybe even himself, it would be an upset if the senior did not win this season.

“I won it last year and it was like a big thing,” Tamillow said. “I was kind of worried – maybe was it a fluke or not? I’m like, ‘No, definitely not.’ I walked through Big Ten dual meet season.

“I’m going to win it, that’s how it’s going to be. Last year was kind of just an indicator of how good I am.”

Dustin Fox, a senior heavyweight ranked atop the nation until his first loss of the season to No. 3 pre-seed Kyle Massey of Wisconsin in the team’s final regular season dual, also expects to take home a title. Fox is pre-seeded second.

Ryan Lang, another senior who won a Big Ten title at 141 pounds last year, will be the seventh seed at 149 pounds this weekend.

Both senior 174-pounder Nick Hayes and sophomore 125-pounder Brandon Precin earned No. 4 pre-seeds.

They will all hope to get a good start to this upcoming “new season,” because without a successful weekend it will only last two days. But at the very least, it will be a long, intense two days.

“You’re taking the Big Ten dual meet competition and compressing it into two days,” Cysewski said.

“You’re taking some real intense matches – and there’s a lot at stake there, not just to win the Big Ten title, but NCAA seeds – so you’re compressing all that into two days. It’s like playing Big Ten football, playing all eight teams in two days.”

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