Wrestling: Wildcats welcome Cornhuskers for first time

Freshman Dominick Malone struggles in his dual against Ohio State. Malone and Northwestern have both struggled in Big Ten play, with the wrestler and the team both winless entering Saturday's dual.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Dominick Malone struggles in his dual against Ohio State. Malone and Northwestern have both struggled in Big Ten play, with the wrestler and the team both winless entering Saturday's dual.

Rohan Nadkarni, Sports Editor

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Northwestern won’t be the only NU in the house on Saturday night.

Conference rival Nebraska (6-3, 0-2 Big Ten) will make its first visit to Evanston as a member of the Big Ten this weekend. The Cornhuskers did not wrestle the Wildcats last season during their inaugural year in the conference. The teams last met in 2009, a 19-18 win for Nebraska.

NU (4-3, 0-2) enters the dual still looking for its first win in the Big Ten. The Cats started off the season red-hot, downing their first three dual opponents by at least 20 points and winning the Keystone Classic in Pennsylvania.

But since its two dual wins Dec. 1, NU has gone 1-3. The Cats fell to conference foes No. 3 Minnesota and No. 4 Ohio State by a combined score of 66-13. NU also faced Clarion and No. 20 Edinboro during a double-header, defeating Clarion but falling to Edinboro.

“You just need to think about your match, and if we have 10 guys that do that we’ll be okay,” coach Drew Pariano said of the recent struggles. “Guys that take the entire weight of the team on their shoulders … (they) might wrestle outside of their comfort zone.”

Pariano admitted to asking too much of his wrestlers at certain points to pick up a team win, something he vows not to do in the future.

Injuries marred the Cats in their last performance. Redshirt senior Levi Mele sat out at 133 pounds, where true freshman Garrison White took a loss. The Cats also forfeited at heavyweight when redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan was unable to compete.

“Mike is more probable than Levi right now (to wrestle this weekend),” Pariano said. “I know Levi needs to see the doctor and we need to be careful. It’s wrestling – I don’t even know what Nebraska’s lineup fully going to be; they’ve had three guys out.”

The Cornhuskers have six victories this season but are winless in the Big Ten so far themselves. Nebraska lost 27-7 to Minnesota and fell short 19-17 against Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers could earn their first conference win of the season one night before Saturday’s dual when they face Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The two marquee matchups on Saturday should be at 157 pounds and 174 pounds.

At 157, NU’s No. 2 Jason Welch will square off against No. 7 James Green. Welch is 17-0 on the season, a streak dating back to the beginning of last regular season, which he finished undefeated in duals. Green is 12-2 and could be a future competitor at the Big Ten Championships.

Another top-10 showdown happens at 174, when No. 9 Lee Munster faces No. 4 Robert Kokesh. Kokesh has been one of the most dominant wrestlers at his weight, posting an impressive 22-1 record so far this season. Munster is tied for second on the Cats with 14 wins. Munster lost to Kokesh earlier in the season.

“(Munster’s) focus is to beat him.” Pariano said. “(Kokesh) is a great competitior. I’m very impressed with him, but I like my guy.”

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