Wrestling: Northwestern gets mixed December results

Redshirt sophomore Lee Munster sizes up his opponent from Ohio State. The dual against Ohio State came after a December of mixed results for the Wildcats.

Daily file photo by Susan Du

Redshirt sophomore Lee Munster sizes up his opponent from Ohio State. The dual against Ohio State came after a December of mixed results for the Wildcats.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

December is usually a big month for Northwestern, which spends the time preparing for the NCAA Championships in March.

The No. 15 Wildcats open up their conference slate at the beginning of the month and then finish it with the Midlands Championships, which NU hosts each year. December is when NU figures out where it needs to improve and how it stacks up with the rest of the nation.

The final month of 2012 brought with it mixed results for the Cats, who were looking to build on a dominant November. NU started December strong with two convincing dual wins on the first of the month. The day began with a 45-0 over Stevens Tech in which the Cats had four pins and a technical fall. That win was followed by a 33-12 win over Duke, with NU racking up two more pins and yet another technical fall in addition to a win by forfeit.

However, the momentum would not carry over to NU’s conference opener against then-No. 3 Minnesota on Dec. 7. The Golden Gophers were aided by two NU injury forfeits en route to a 33-7 win over the Cats. Minnesota picked up three wins by two points or less, two of which were between two wrestlers ranked in the top-20. The two victories for the Cats came from redshirt senior Jason Welch and redshirt sophomore Lee Munster, both of whom won in fairly convincing fashion. It was a tough start to Big Ten play for the Cats, who were without the services of senior Levi Mele and redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan due to injuries.

Both wrestlers returned for the next duals about a week and a half later, but it would not be enough for the Cats. NU got off to a good start with a 26-9 win over Clarion, which was highlighted by a much anticipated matchup of returning All-Americans at 157 pounds Welch entered the dual ranked No. 2 in the country at the weight class, and his opponent, James Fleming, came in at No. 3. However, the match was more of a showcase for Welch, who raced out to a 5-0 lead in the first period and never looked back to win by major decision 10-1.

It was the second dual of Dec. 16 which gave coach Drew Pariano his first loss in a non-conference dual. NU took on then-No. 20 Edinboro, and both schools won five matches, but it was the bonus points which made the difference in a 22-15 Fighting Scots victory. Edinboro picked up two pins and a major decision to help edge past the Cats, who did not muster up any bonus points in their five wins. Once again a matchup of top-10 wrestlers was a one-sided beatdown as A.J. Schopp, ranked No. 4, took down Mele, ranked No. 9, at 133 pounds 10-2.

After a two-week hiatus, the Cats returned to action in the biggest tournament of their regular season, the Midlands Championships. The Cats had eight seeded wrestlers in the event, only seven of whom actually counted for the team score because freshman Jason Tsirtsis was wrestling unattached during his redshirt campaign. After the first day of the two-day competition NU was in fourth place, having sent three wrestlers to the championship semifinals and two to the wrestlebacks.

At the close of the tournament, Welch became the third NU wrestler to win two Midlands titles with a 4-0 over Lehigh’s Joey Napoli. The Cats finished the tournament in seventh place as a team thanks to a fifth-place finish for Munster, a tie for fourth for McMullan and redshirt sophomore Alex Polizzi’s eighth-place finish. Tsirtsis also placed eighth while wrestling unattached.