Wrestling: Wildcats unlock success at Keystone Classic

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

Almost everything went right for Northwestern over the weekend. Almost.

“I usually order just straight coffee, but I think the waitress messed up and brought me a mocha latte,” coach Drew Pariano said at the airport. “But I’m not really the kind of guy who moans and groans about that kind of stuff.”

Pariano must have been in a good mood from Sunday’s Keystone Classic. He said last week he wanted his team to win the tournament by 50 points. The Wildcats won by 53.5.

Four first-place wrestlers paced NU, who dominated its first tournament of the season. Freshman Dominick Malone, the lone loser from NU’s first dual against Stanford, more than redeemed himself by winning at 125 pounds despite entering as the sixth seed. The Cats also won the Keystone Classic last year.

Malone won four matches, notching pins in two of them. The freshman also wrestled in front of his family for the first time in college at the tournament.

“It was really special,” Malone said. “It was very important for me to turn it around. I knew I had a solid week in practice. The (Stanford) loss definitely motivated me, and I had a bit of a wake-up call.”

All-American redshirt senior Jason Welch continued his regular season dominance, winning easily at 157 pounds. Redshirt sophomore Pierce Harger also stepped up, improving his record to 6-0 on the season, picking up the title at 165 pounds.

But even with the win, Harger made sure to keep his early success in the proper perspective.

“We definitely have a lot of work to do,” Harger said. “The first tournament is a lot about getting out the jitters. It’s all in preparation for future tournaments.”

Harger’s coach echoed his wrestler’s sentiments about the work still to be done.

“I’m not overly satisfied,” Pariano said. “We left some matches on the table; we need to finish a little stronger.”

Even with the Cats not finishing to Pariano’s standards, all still managed to place no lower than sixth at the tournament.

Joining Malone, Welch and Harger in the winner’s circle was redshirt sophomore Lee Munster at 174 pounds. Three wrestlers from NU finished second: redshirt senior Levi Mele at 133 pounds, redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan at heavyweight and freshman Jameson Oster at 141 pounds.

The finishes at second came as a bit of an upset for Mele and McMullan, who both entered the tournament ranked first in their respective weight classes. For Oster, the high finish surprised a few, with the sophomore given the seventh seed for the Classic.

Moving forward, the Cats now have both a tournament and a dual under their belt, with only one more event before their first Big Ten dual. With that in mind, Pariano remains focused on other goals.

“We have some good competition in front of us,” Pariano said. “We haven’t accomplished what we want to accomplish. The real tests are still in front of us.”

Even if the Cats flush the Keystone Classic victory quickly, the day will always be memorable for Malone, picking up a dominant win in front of his family during his first collegiate tournament — not something many wrestlers experience in their career.

“He’s extremely excited,” Pariano said. “We can’t wait for him to compete again.”