Wrestling: NU flops versus Michigan, redeems against Wisconsin

Rohan Nadkarni and Rohan Nadkarni

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After a promising start to the season, Northwestern began conference action this past weekend with duals against Michigan and Wisconsin. After dropping the dual to the Wolverines on January 6, the Wildcats bounced back to take care of the Badgers on Sunday.

No. 15 NU (5-1-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten) took part in its first conference dual against No. 7 Michigan (3-2-0, 2-1-0) on Friday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. After winning two of the first five bouts, the Cats lost five straight to the Wolverines. NU lost four bouts via major decision, but were within three points in all other matches.

“It was disappointing,” coach Drew Pariano said. “You take it in and you don’t forget about it then it fuels you for the next dual. I know we’re a better team than what we showed Friday night.”

20th ranked John Schoen lost his bout against 18th ranked Max Huntley in 197 pounds, 5-2. At multiple points during the bout, coaches from both teams stood up and questioned the officiating.

“The officials, that’s a tough job,” Pariano said. “You’ve just got to roll with the punches and score points.”

In the night’s most anticipated match, eighth-ranked Lee Munster took on sixth-ranked Justin Zeerip in 174 pounds. Munster lost a close decision of 3-2 against Zeerip but not without some controversy. It appeared Munster scored one more point when Zeerip was called for his third caution during the third period of the bout. However, the officials decided earlier to rescind Zeerip’s second caution, not clarifying that action until after the bout.

The lone winners for the Cats on Friday were seventh-ranked Levi Mele in 125 pounds and third-ranked Jason Welch in 157 pounds. Mele scored the biggest NU victory of the night, winning his match via fall. Mele, who was already in control of the match after the first period, pinned Grant Pizzo while ahead 5-0. Mele came into the dual losing 2 of 3 bouts after a 16-0 start, but propelled himself back into the discussion for top seeding at the Big Ten Tournament.

“It was a great way to start off Big Ten competition,” Mele said. “Each of these matches, every one of them count. Every point I get in each match counts.”

Welch had an opportunity to score another big win in his bout against the unranked Brandon Zeerip. However, Welch appeared evenly matched in a bout he won 2-0. The All-American did earn a large advantage in riding time and ultimately kept his undefeated record on the season alive.

After a day to recover Saturday, NU traveled to Madison and defeated Wisconsin (5-3-0, 3-2) 33-9. The Cats had more luck on the road, winning eight of 10 bouts.

The biggest win of the day went to Pierce Harger, who upset eighth-ranked Ben Jordan in 165 pounds. Jordan, who won third place at the Midlands, fell to Harger, 4-2.

“I didn’t even know what he was ranked until maybe 10 minutes before my match,” Harger said. “I just wanted to go out there and wrestle. I’ve had a lot of close matches, and I wanted to actually win one of them.”

Aside from Harger, NU was aided by Welch and Jameson Oster, who both won their bout via fall. Mele won his bout as well, and Schoen, Munster, Colin Shober and Mike McMullan all bounced back from losses against the Wolverines. The only wrestlers who lost against the Badgers were Marcus Shrewsbury and Kaleb Friedley.

The Cats go right back into the Big Ten gauntlet with a home dual against defending national champion Penn State on Friday.