Wrestling: Dual won, it’s tourney time for NU

Rohan Nadkarni

Following last weekend’s impressive 27-8 rout of then-No. 14 Stanford at Marist High School, No. 20 Northwestern (1-0-0) shifts gears Saturday as it travels to East Lansing for the Michigan State Open.

The Michigan State Open marks the first tournament of the 2011 season for the Wildcats. The tournament could pull NU wrestlers into many bouts in one day, as opposed to just once a day as is the custom in dual play. The difference in style has been reflected in the team’s preparation.

“There is a difference in that we wrestle up to four or five times in one day, ” coach Drew Pariano said. “Your goal at tournaments is to get off the mats as soon as humanly possible.”

The tournament will serve as a barometer for how the Cats will stack up in later tournaments, such as the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Championships later on in the year.

“It doesn’t make or break the season,” Pariano said. “It’s a good tournament to analyze what’s going well with your training and what’s going well with your technique. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it now. But we don’t want to be making mistakes during Big Ten season or at Midlands.”

The mental aspect of wrestling in a tournament is not lost on the team. Wrestlers must not only be physically ready; they must also be mentally prepared to maintain their focus through multiple bouts.

“Last week, one win was all I (needed),” junior Levi Mele said. “This week I want to get four, or five or whatever it takes to win the tournament, so mentally I’m preparing more than anything. I’ve always been a big believer in goals, and so I sit down every week and I visualize, I think about what it’s going to feel like, smell like and taste like, especially standing on top of the podium receiving (my) medal.”

Jason Welch, currently ranked third in the country in the 157-pound weight class, will look to continue his path toward the NCAA Championships this weekend. Welch was voted one of the team captains earlier this week, implying additional responsibilities for the junior.

“It’s good to know that my peers and other guys on the team wanted me in this position,” Welch said. “First of all, I have to lead by example. Of course I have to be (vocal), but the biggest thing about being a team leader is leading by example. I have to make sure I’m on my A-game all the time.”

The Michigan State Open will also be a chance for NU to solidify its spot in the national rankings. This week, despite their victory over a ranked Cardinal squad, the Cats moved down one slot in the rankings, according to Pariano. To make matters worse, Pariano said that Stanford moved up. The rankings slight should add motivation not only for this weekend’s tournament, but for the rest of the season.

“I’m not gonna say I think we’re under-ranked right now,” Pariano said. “But I really like the potential of this team, and I’m gonna leave it at that.”

The Cats still hold a relatively high ranking, particularly given their youth. They only have three seniors, none of whom started last weekend. On the other hand, the team has eight redshirt freshmen on the roster. The young dynamic of the team has led to a certain team hunger.

“It’s a positive thing we have so many young guys,” Welch said. “It’s a lot of new blood. Everyone is more excited to wrestle. None of the guys are tired. All these guys are ready to get after it right away.”

Being as young as it is, the team believes it has a chance to create a lasting identity, starting this weekend.

“I love the fact that it is a young team,” Mele said. “There’s no real set traditions, so we’re paving the way for excellence.”

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