Wrestling: Northwestern splits weekend duals against Illinois and Purdue

Rohan Nadkarni

It may be time to schedule all duals as far away from Evanston as possible. No. 18 Northwestern (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) battled in two road duals this weekend, losing to in-state rival No. 8 Illinois (13-2, 5-2) and defeating Purdue (7-9, 2-5).

The Wildcats faced the Fighting Illini on Friday, and with the 26-10 loss the team fell to 1-3 in Big Ten duals in the state of Illinois.

“I think we peak at certain times in the season,” coach Drew Pariano said. “I don’t read too much into that.”

Illinois jumped out to a 10-0 lead after three matches and never looked back. The dual started at 174 pounds, where 13th-ranked Lee Munster fell to 12th-ranked Jordan Blanton. After Munster, Robert Kellogg lost by major decision at 184 pounds.

The dual became interesting in the third bout, when John Schoen took on his nemesis, 16th-ranked Mario Gonzalez, at 197 pounds. Schoen beat Gonzalez the last two times the wrestlers faced off, but he could not pull off a third win.

Gonzalez’s 4-2 win did not come without controversy. A Schoen takedown that would have given the wrestler an early 2-0 lead was ruled an illegal slam.

“The ref called an illegal slam you almost never see in college,” Pariano said. “I’m not a ref in any way, and I know those calls are tough, so you just have to go with it.”

Three bouts down, the Cats began to forge a comeback. Fifteenth-ranked Mike McMullan edged out Pat Walker 4-2 in a heavyweight battle for NU’s first win. Carrying McMullan’s momentum, ninth-ranked Levi Mele earned revenge in a Midlands rematch against fifth-ranked Jesse Delgado at 125 pounds, defeating Delgado 13-7.

However, Illinois quickly halted the Cats’ momentum by winning the next three bouts. The lone remaining bright spot for NU was second-ranked Jason Welch’s 13-3 major decision win over Jackson Morse at 157 pounds.

Leaving Illinois proved to be more successful for the Cats as NU defeated Purdue 21-18 in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sunday. The Cats are 2-1 outside of their home state in Big Ten play, the only loss coming in a tightly contested dual against No. 4 Iowa.

Sunday’s dual started at 125 pounds, where Mele made easy work out of Camden Eppert, winning 6-0. Mele won both his bouts over the weekend, giving him a team-leading 22 wins.

After the Boilermakers’ Matt Fields struck back with a 7-1 win over Jameson Oster at 133 pounds, NU started rolling.

The Cats won four of their next five bouts, giving them a substantial lead after seven bouts. At 141 pounds, Pariano started redshirt freshman Pat Greco over Colin Shober. The decision paid off when Greco rewarded his coach with a 5-4 win, Greco’s first win in the Big Ten.

“It was great for Pat,” Pariano said. “He really stepped up and took the challenge.”

After Kaleb Friedley lost a close bout to 13th-ranked Ivan Lopouchanksi, NU reeled off three straight wins. Two of those wins came via fall, as Welch and Munster each pinned their opponent to give the Cats a 21-6 lead seven bouts into dual.

NU needed nearly every point of that lead, as Purdue mounted a furious comeback beginning at 184 pounds. Nineteenth-ranked Braden Atwood pinned Marcus Shrewsbury to bring the Boilermakers within nine points.

Purdue remained in striking distance with two matches left. Schoen concluded his disappointing weekend with a 7-0 loss to A.J. Kissel in the second-to-last match.

With the margin reduced to just six points, Purdue had an opportunity to tie the match with a pin. However, Roger Vukabratovich’s 3-1 win over McMullan was not enough to bring the Boilermakers all the way back.

“The guys are old enough to know that was a victory on paper, but they could do so much more,” Pariano said. “It shows that we have work to do.”

Northwestern’s next dual is at home against Northern Illinois on Friday.

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