Wrestling: Northwestern looks to rebound against Michigan State

Rohan Nadkarni

After the toughest weekend of the season, No. 18 Northwestern (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) can get back on track against Michigan State (3-4, 1-2) on Friday.

Conference opponents have been challenging for the Wildcats so far, with their only win coming against an unranked Wisconsin team. The Spartans are the first unranked team NU will face since their dual with the Badgers.

“It’s a very even matchup,” coach Drew Pariano said. “Michigan State is a very capable team and they’re coming off a win. If you’re a Big Ten team, you’re good.”

Michigan State got its one and only conference dual win this past Sunday against Indiana. The Spartans earned a slim 21-20 victory, winning a tiebreaker by virtue of total match victories. The defeat of the Hoosiers was the team’s first dual victory since December 3.

Michigan State’s most impressive showing so far may have been at the Reno Tournament of Champions in mid-December. The team took fifth place and scored 66 points at the Nevada tournament. In addition to its conference win, Michigan State beat Lock Haven and Bucknell on the road in Pennsylvania.

“It is a quality tournament,” Pariano said about Reno. “If you’re a top-five team at Reno, you’re obviously progressing and doing things right, they have a very good coaching staff over there.”

Still, the Spartans appear to be a much less daunting team than the Cats have gotten used to facing. After grappling with a slew of top-10 wrestlers, including numerous All-Americans, NU will draw only two top-20 wrestlers against Michigan State. But after losses to No. 1 Penn State and No. 4 last weekend, the Cats can’t afford a let down.

“The biggest thing is knowing you are pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can in the practice room,” Pariano said. “If you give it absolutely everything for the entire practice, you’re going to be ready to go by Friday night.”

13th-ranked Anthony Jones and 10th-ranked Mike McClure lead the way for the Spartans. Jones sports an impressive 14-4 record at 157 pounds and will take the mat against All-American third-ranked Jason Welch, who boasts a perfect 14-0 record.

McClure has a possible date with 17th-ranked Mike McMullan at heavyweight. McClure can avenge a loss he suffered to McMullan during last year’s Michigan State Open.

Although the Spartans have only two ranked wrestlers, 10 members have at least 12 victories. For the Cats, only eight wrestlers have that many wins.

“You need turn it on every time you lace it on,” Pariano said about earning more wins from the entire roster. “Not waiting until the Big Ten tournament to turn it on, it comes with maturity.”

Last weekend, the Cats were battered in more ways than one, dropping duals to Penn State and Iowa by a combined 46 points. In addition to the tough losses, tenth-ranked Levi Mele and Colin Shober both suffered injuries last Friday. Mele was able to wrestle two days later, while Shober is expected to be a match-time decision on Friday.

“We will have both Colin and Pat Greco ready to go,” Pariano said.

Mele, who was ranked as high as seven this year, has seen his rank slip since hitting a 3-4 slump after a perfect 16-0 start. At 133 pounds, Jameson Oster has a chance to improve his record to 9-9 against Michigan State’s Terry Turner or Brandon FiField.

The Cats’ struggles at 184 pounds could get worse this weekend as Marcus Shrewsbury and Robert Kellogg have combined for a 4-17 record this year, while the Spartans have a 24-12 record in the weight class.

This will be the Cats’ only dual of the weekend, after two weeks of home-and-away matches.

[email protected]