Wrestling: Make or break weekend for NU against Penn State, Iowa

Rohan Nadkarni

In arguably the biggest weekend of the season, No. 22 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) takes on defending national champion No. 1 Penn State (5-1, 1-1) Friday at Welsh-Ryan Arena before traveling to Iowa City to grapple with No. 4 Iowa (7-1, 2-0) Sunday.

“We’re healthy. We’re ready to go,” Coach Drew Pariano said. “We got a couple people that have big matches in front of them, but we’re healthy, we’re excited.”

Penn State last wrestled Sunday, dismantling Michigan State 36-6 for its first Big Ten win. The Nittany Lions won nine of 10 bouts, their only loss coming on a disqualification due to an illegal throw.

Penn State has eight ranked wrestlers, four of whom are returning All-Americans. It has four wrestlers ranked in the top-two in the nation in their respective weight classes with Frank Molinaro (149 pounds) and David Taylor (165 pounds), the top ranked wrestlers at their weight. Ed Ruth (174 pounds) and Quentin Wright (184 pounds) are ranked second.

With the Wildcats featuring several ranked wrestlers themselves, the dual will contain three top-ten matchups. Third-ranked and returning All-American Jason Welch takes on Penn State’s ninth-ranked Dylan Alton at 157 pounds, seventh-ranked Levi Mele wrestles the Nittany Lions’ 10th-ranked Nico Megaludis at 125 pounds and ninth-ranked Lee Munster battles Ruth at 174 pounds.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re wrestling in the Big Ten,” Pariano said. “Everybody’s going to have guys who are in the top 20 nationally. It’s typical.”

The Cats enter the action on Friday night fresh off their first Big Ten dual win of the season, a 33-9 win over Wisconsin on Sunday.

The early season matchups this weekend could play a large role in the final Big Ten standings, with five one-loss teams currently bunched together in fourth or sixth place. This weekend’s duals also serve as an indicator for later tournaments.

“Every win that you have sets you up for the seeds going into nationals,” Pariano said. “They’re all big. We need to put our best foot forward and win some matches.”

The Nittany Lions own a lifetime 11-1 record against the Cats and enter Friday’s dual on a nine-match winning streak over NU. Penn State beat NU 37-10 when the teams last met two years ago.

“I didn’t know that streak,” Pariano said. “I will say this: it seems like our program, if you look back, every year we beat somebody that had some kind of streak like that.”

The Cats can’t let up after Friday, with current Big Ten leader Iowa looming on Sunday. The Hawkeyes took first place at Midlands and were riding an 84-dual unbeaten streak that was broken Saturday night against No. 3 Oklahoma State.

Three top-three wrestlers will hit the mat for Iowa this weekend, including second-ranked Tony Ramos at 133 pounds and third-ranked Montell Marion at 141 pounds. In the biggest matchup of the day, Mele wrestles second-ranked Matt McDonough .

“In the 20 some odd years I’ve been wrestling, this is the best,” Mele said of his work this year. “It’s definitely an honor to be in the Big Ten, in Division I, wrestling some of the top-notch kids.”

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