Wrestling: Cats can’t keep up with No. 1 Penn State, No. 4 Iowa

Rohan Nadkarni

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Struggling to maintain its early season success, No. 21 Northwestern (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) lost both its duals this past weekend against No. 1 Penn State (7-1, 3-1) and No. 4 Iowa (9-1, 4-0).

The Wildcats took on Penn State Friday night at Welsh-Ryan, and the action got off to a rough start when seventh-ranked Levi Mele injured his knee during the first bout. Mele would remain on the mat but eventually lose to 10th ranked Nico Megaludis. The dual only got worse from that point.

“The effort was there, it was just unguided,” Coach Drew Pariano said on Friday night. “We’ve got to win tough matches.”

The Cats lost eight of the next nine bouts, with only All-American third ranked Jason Welch scoring a win. Welch faced ninth-ranked Dylan Alton at 157 pounds and scored a 4-1 victory.

Although Welch kept his undefeated record, it was not without difficulty. The score after two periods was only 1-0 in favor of Welch and his last two points came in the waning seconds of the bout.

Beyond Welch’s success, NU suffered one major decision, one first period fall, two technical falls and even an injury decision when Colin Shober could not continue to wrestle after hurting his knee.

Shober was ahead in his match but incurred his injury during the last second of the first period.

“We felt really good about that match,” Pariano said. “Those are unfortunate things that happen in wrestling. I feel bad for Colin, but we’re going to get him back and he will wrestle as soon as he can.”

The Cats managed to stay close for many of their matches. John Schoen at 197 pounds and Mike McMullan at heavyweight both held the lead at one point in each of their matches, but ultimately lost. The Nittany Lions won by a final score of 38-3.

“It’s a very, very mental sport,” Pariano said. “We do have a lot of skill, but we need to get mentally tougher.”

After the rough dual against Penn State, the Cats faced an equally strong opponent in the Hawkeyes on Sunday afternoon. Iowa entered the dual in first place in the Big Ten, unbeaten in 85 of their last 86 duals.

Unlike Friday night, Sunday’s dual started on a high note. McMullan defeated eighth-ranked Bobby Telford at heavyweight, which put NU ahead 3-0 early. The bout was a rematch of an overtime tussle at the Midlands which Telford won.

“That’s a big match,” Pariano said. “When they determine seeding for the Big Ten Tournament, that’s the one that carries through.”

However, the Cats lost their next three bouts to top-three wrestlers. Mele wrestled with the knee injury he suffered Friday night, and lost a major decision to second-ranked Matt McDonough.

NU scored three more victories on that day. Kaleb Friedley won his bout at 149 pounds and Welch won by major decision over Iowa’s Nick Moore.

Schoen also scored an upset for NU, defeating 19th-ranked Grant Gambrall in another Midlands rematch. Despite the Cats’ improved success from Friday’s match, the Hawkeyes still won the dual 24-13.

“We battled really, really hard,” Pariano said. “It’s funny, maybe we should be on the road more. I think our guys enjoyed wrestling in front of 8,000 people.”

Absent from Sunday’s dual was Shober, who did not recover fully in order to compete.

“He’ll be ready to go next week, and we’ll get him to 100 percent,” Pariano said.

The Cats’ next dual will come Friday night, when the team takes on Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.