Wrestling: Wildcats prepared for season’s first tournament

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

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Don’t expect Northwestern to bring any love Sunday.

The Wildcats head to Philadelphia for the Keystone Classic, an all-day tournament and NU’s first such event of the season. NU has only competed in one dual so far this season.

“You need to go seven minutes hard, start to finish,” coach Drew Pariano said. “You need to do that four or five times. It’s the same philosophy (as duals). We’re ready for that seven-minute grind over and over again.”

The Cats owned the tournament last season, finishing first out of 11 competitors. In 2011, NU placed 12 out of 14 wrestlers in the top six, with redshirt senior Levi Mele finishing first at 125 pounds.

However, Mele won the spot at 133 pounds this year, opening up a spot for freshman Dominic Malone at 125 pounds.

“I’ve gone both weights the last two years,” Mele said. “I thought both years went relatively the same. I feel bigger than the guys at 25, but I feel stronger, crisper and better at 33. And I can outlast anyone.”

Sophomore Jameson Oster also moved up a weight class, going to 141 pounds from 133. Oster finished third at the Keystone last year, defeating three ranked wrestlers in the process.

This season, the Keystone features 14 teams, with 10 returners from last year. Of the 14 ranked wrestlers at the tournament, the Cats have five of them.

“We want to win every weight class,” Pariano said. “We feel like we have a team that can do a lot of damage at every single weight class. We feel confident going in. We want to win the tournament by 50 points – which is kind of a large margin.”

Redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan, who is ranked fifth in heavyweight, will have an opportunity to wrestle in front of some family in his home state of Pennsylvania.

“If I don’t win the tournament, I’m disappointed in myself,” McMullan said. “My mindset is definitely just to win.”

The Keystone comes on the heels of the Cats’ 32-6 shellacking of Stanford last weekend. Although NU dominated the dual, Malone lost the team’s only match, meaning not everyone “left happy,” in the words of Pariano.

With the tournament as NU’s first major contest of the season, the team hopes to use it as a slight barometer for future tournaments, despite the markedly different competition level.

“(Tournaments) are important for confidence,” Pariano said. “I see a team in here that is a lot more confident than last year. You’re going to build firepower and you’re going to build confidence in these early season tournaments. You don’t want to get complacent.”

The tournament structure will be very different from the Cats’ dual with the Cardinal. Wrestlers could compete up to five times in a single day on Sunday if they advance all the way to the championship bout of their respective weight class. But the new structure does not necessarily affect preparation.

“You have to recognize that it’s a long haul and a long day,” McMullan said. “You’re wrestling four or five matches as opposed to one, but you just have to mentally prepare.”