In a battle of NUs, one proved to be the stronger competitor on Saturday.
In its first match in Evanston as a member of the Big Ten, Nebraska (8-3, 2-2 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern (4-4, 0-3) by a score of 25-12. The Cornhuskers controlled most of the dual, even pulling off a stunning upset at 157 pounds where No. 7 James Green won against No. 2 Jason Welch.
Welch entered the bout undefeated in duals since the beginning of last season. Last year, Welch did not lose until the Big Ten championships. On Saturday, Welch dug himself a hole even the most talented of wrestlers could not escape.
Welch faced a whopping 6-1 deficit after the first period against Green. Even with Welch outscoring Green 6-3 over the next two periods, the Nebraska sophomore shocked the Wildcats and home crowd by hanging on for the victory. Welch, an All-American and team captain, fell to 17-1 on the season.
“Green is obviously a quality competitor,” coach Drew Pariano said. “(Jason) just needs to be ready when the whistle blows. He worked hard to make it 9-8 but obviously that’s not the result we wanted.”
The captain’s loss came during a four-bout stretch that sunk NU, which lost all four of those contests before winning the final bout with a team win no longer possible.
The losing streak started at 133 pounds, where Shawn Nagel beat true freshman Garrison White. White started in place of senior Levi Mele for the second straight dual, with Mele sitting out due to injury. Redshirt sophomores Pat Greco and Dylan Marriott also lost their bouts before Green’s upset of Welch.
The Cornhuskers also started with two big wins. In a repeat matchup of the Midlands, No. 2 Robert Kokesh defeated NU’s No. 9 Lee Munster at 174 pounds via major decision. At 184, Marcus Shrewsbury lost via tech fall to No. 7 Josh Ihnen.
The Cats picked up wins at 197, 125 and 165. Sophomore Alex Polizzi picked up the win at 197 for NU’s first win of the night, winning handily 6-1. Freshman No. 18 Dominick Malone also picked up a big win, toppling Eric Coufal 6-2 at 125. At 165, No. 13 Pierce Harger won the last bout of the night.
“It’s real exciting,” Pariano said of the success of his underclassmen. “Alex had a clean match. (Pierce) came back and really put it on that guy.”
Injuries again played a role in the Cats’ struggles. In addition to Mele at 133, redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan missed his second straight dual at heavyweight, where true freshman Jacob Berkowitz took the loss in his place.
McMullan, who finished third at the NCAA Championships last season and earned All-American honors, was believed to be close to a return according to coach Pariano, who said during the week that McMullan could have potentially competed against Nebraska.
“It’s a high level of frustration,” Pariano said. “It makes it a pretty tall order (when players are out), but it’s just something that you have to deal with.”
The loss also keeps NU winless in the Big Ten. The Cats lost to No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 17 Nebraska, and have yet to defeat a team ranked higher than them so far this season. NU will have a short reprieve from the rigors of their own conference next weekend, returning to non-conference play with a double header against Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois.