Wrestling: NU to face top-heavy Purdue on Friday

Josh Walfish

Northwestern’s best wrestlers aren’t necessarily its biggest.

The Wildcats (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) have won 77 of 85 matches at their five lower weight divisions this season. Three of the five starters at the lower divisions rank in the top-10 nationally, and all five appear in the top-30.

When No. 17 NU hosts No. 24 Purdue (5-6-1, 0-2) on Friday night, the Cats will be facing something of a top-heavy opponent. Of Purdue’s five top-30 wrestlers, three, all ranking in the top-15, wrestle at the upper weight divisions.

Even though Purdue sits at the bottom of the Big Ten, Pariano is not taking the dual against the Boilermakers lightly.

“This is a very good (Purdue) team,” coach Drew Pariano said. “They got a lot of strong guys at the heavier weight. This is a team a lot of teams look over, but you can’t really do that.”

NU will look to bounce back from a 31-9 loss to Iowa last Friday. The Cats dropped four of the five lower weight division matches to the Hawkeyes. Because NU’s heavier wrestlers are not as strong across the board as its lighter wrestlers, the pressure tends to be disproportionately placed on its lower weight matches. The only two times NU has lost multiple matches in the lower five divisions, it ended up losing the dual.

“It puts pressure on guys like Brandon (Precin), Kaleb (Friedley) and Andrew Nadhir to get those bonus points,” Pariano said. “But once you get to the Big Ten season, bonus points are few and far between. Every match you expect a different person to shine.”

John Schoen will have his hands full with his 197-pound matchup against Purdue’s Logan Brown, the highest-ranked Boilermaker wrestler at No. 9. Schoen lost 6-0 to Brown last season.

At the 184-pound division, the Cats will look to senior Aaron Jones to snap his five-game losing skid as he faces the Boilermakers’ only other top-10 wrestler, No. 10 A.J. Kissel. Although the two have never met before, Jones is wary of the problems Kissel could give him.

“He shoots a lot of low singles, which I had trouble with in the beginning of the year,” Jones said. “I need to focus on my defense and watch for the low shots.”

If the Cats fail to deliver at the lower division, NU will need a performance like Schoen’s clutch pin on Jan. 14 against Illinois. The Cats were on the verge of blowing the lead they secured after the first five duals until Schoen pinned his opponent and secured a victory. NU is undefeated when it wins one match at the heavier divisions, excluding forfeits.

“It’s hard to pick up after not doing well at the beginning of the meet,” Jones said. “I just try to go in a corner and get my motivation because you need to create your own motivation.”

NU’s preparations for the meet were not affected by Tuesday’s blizzard. While Pariano could not hold an official practice on Wednesday, the team still worked out together at a local health club.

“I don’t look at this as an off day, ” Pariano said. “I look at it as a day to get better. They were able to relax today, but tomorrow we got two hard practices.”

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