Wrestling: Northwestern tries to finish season on high note against Indiana

Rohan Nadkarni

After wrapping up nonconference play last week, No. 18 Northwestern (10-4, 3-4 Big Ten) returns home for its last match of the season. The Wildcats will face Indiana (11-7, 0-7) in their final Big Ten duel.

The Hoosiers are similar to the Cats in that both teams performed better out of the conference. Indiana won all of its 11 duels outside of the Big Ten but has lost every one of its conference duels so far.

The Hoosiers are led by 18th-ranked Taylor Walsh at 149 pounds and third-ranked Matt Powless at 197 pounds. Indiana is coming off wins over North Carolina State, Virginia Military Institute and Gardner-Webb on Sunday.

Like Indiana, the Cats also finished undefeated in nonconference play. NU has won every Big Ten duel in which its faced an unranked opponent. Despite the team’s success against the lower tier of the Big Ten, looking past Indiana could ruin seeding in the Big Ten Championships.

“I don’t know if we’ve wrestled our best in a little while,” coach Drew Pariano said. “The excitement about the possibility of wrestling our best on Friday night is definitely there.”

With the end of the season also comes the conclusion of some the year’s big storylines. Second-ranked Jason Welch can end his duel season undefeated with a win on Friday. Senior John Schoen can get his first win in over a month at his last duel, and junior Levi Mele can finish the year with a team-leading 26 wins.

“I’m pretty excited,” Mele said. “It’s amazing how fast the year has gone. It’s been a great year. This is my last big chance to improve myself in live situations before the Big Ten Championships.”

For Welch, the opportunity to finish perfect at 157 pounds will come against Sawyer Morris, who is 5-15 on the season.

“It’s hard not to be excited at this point of the season,” Welch said. “I really want to push it hard. This is my last chance to get in better shape and improve myself before Big Tens and NCAAs.”

An important factor going into the last duel will be maintaining the team’s health both mentally and physically. Pariano scheduled lighter practices this week after training hard through the team’s two duels against North Carolina and Campbell last weekend.

To break up the monotony of some practice drills, Pariano let the team play dodge ball as a warm up exercise instead of calisthenics during practice on Wednesday.

The team will go into Friday’s duel with no significant injuries or other health problems.

“Injury-wise, health-wise, we are okay right now,” Pariano said. “We could be a lot worse.”

Another job for Pariano has been to keep the players focused on the task at hand. Although one duel remains, many wrestlers at this point in the season begin to look ahead to March when tournament season begins.

Pariano stressed the team needs to take things “one duel at a time,” especially because the team “actually has only one duel” this weekend. This weekend is just the third during the past two months in which NU has just one opponent on the schedule.

After Friday’s duel, the team will take Saturday off before returning Sunday to begin preparing for the Big Ten Championships, which begin on March 3. Though the Big Ten Championships are still two weeks away, it looms in the minds of the Cats.

“I feel like I’ve already made that mistake,” Welch said of looking ahead. “I’m so excited for Big Tens. Come Friday, my only thought will be that Indiana match, but today all I thought about was Big Tens and Nationals. That’s what I daydream about.”

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