Wrestling: NU seeks revenge on Michigan in Big Ten debut

Rohan Nadkarni

After a strong start to the season, No. 15 Northwestern (4-0-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) finally opens conference play this weekend with duals against No. 7 Michigan (2-1-0, 1-0-0) Friday night and Wisconsin (5-2-0, 0-1-0) Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats are red-hot after their second-place finish at Midlands, but their undefeated duals record will be put to the test by a stacked Wolverines squad.

“With the Big Ten, every team is very, very good,” coach Drew Pariano said. “The Midlands got us ready for Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Seven Michigan wrestlers are currently ranked in the top 20 in their respective weight class, including Kellen Russell, who owned a 46-match win streak at 141 pounds that was broken in December. The last time the Wolverines wrestled as a team, they took first at the Mat Town Invitational. Michigan won five individual championships, and its 11 overall place-winners gave it a decisive victory at the tournament.

“We lost to Michigan when we played them last year,” Pariano said. “We just need to be tough and go out there and win some matches and reverse some match decisions that we lost.”

With NU having many ranked wrestlers of its own, a few potential match-ups stand out for Friday’s dual in Evanston. At 174 pounds, eighth-ranked redshirt freshman Lee Munster takes on sixth-ranked Justin Zeerip. Munster lost to Zeerip the last time the two wrestled.

“It’s the start of the Big Ten season, so matches as we go on for the rest of the season start to get more and more important,” Munster said. “My season doesn’t necessarily depend on this match, so I’m taking it as an opportunity to redeem myself.”

John Schoen turned his eighth-place finish at Midlands into a national ranking as he wrestles 18th-ranked Max Huntley at 197 pounds.

“I watched tape on when we wrestled previously,” Schoen said. “I know what he’ll do, and he’ll probably know what I’ll do, and it’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”

Redshirt freshman Mike McMullan, ranked 19th at heavyweight, takes on 15th-ranked Ben Apland, while All-American and third-ranked Jason Welch wrestles Brandon Zeerip at 157 pounds.

After the Michigan dual, NU travels to Madison, Wis. to square off against Wisconsin. With two matches in three days, health will be a factor in making sure the Cats do not suffer a letdown against the Badgers.

Wisconsin lost its first Big Ten dual to Michigan on Dec. 11. The Badgers last hit the mat at Midlands, where they finished 18th as a team. However, three wrestlers placed at the tournament – redshirt junior Cole Schmitt, unattached freshman Connor Medbery and senior Ben Jordan.

“Quite frankly, Wisconsin matches up really well with us,” Pariano said. “It’s all about match-ups in college wrestling.”

For NU, the weekend will prove the true prowess of the season’s early stars. Welch is off to a perfect 10-0 record, and the redshirt junior wrestles two unranked opponents, as does junior Levi Mele, who won his first 16 bouts of the season. Mele moved up to No. 7 at 125 pounds after his fourth-place finish at Midlands.

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