Wrestling: Northwestern searches for first conference win in Michigan

Josh Walfish, Reporter

The Big Ten has asserted itself as the best wrestling conference in the nation this season.

Northwestern is ranked No. 23 in the nation, but the Wildcats are searching for their first conference dual victory this year. The hunt takes NU (5-5, 0-3 Big Ten) to Michigan this weekend where they face two teams also looking for their first conference wins.

The pair of Big Ten duals begins Friday night in East Lansing, Mich., against Michigan State (4-7,0-4) and continues Sunday against No. 18 Michigan (6-4, 0-3) in Ann Arbor.

The Cats are coming off a disappointing split in non-conference duals last weekend during which Jason Welch earned wins No. 100 and 101 in convincing fashion.

The redshirt senior is the second ranked wrestler at 157 pounds in the first coaches’ poll released this week, and he is one of seven NU wrestlers ranked in the initial poll. Six of the seven wrestlers are ranked in the top-20, with freshman Garrison White coming in at No. 30 as the lone exception.

On paper, Friday’s matchup with the Spartans will be the easier of this weekend’s two duals.

Michigan State has four wrestlers in its starting lineup ranked in the coaches’ poll, but only two of them are listed by the two weekly rankings.

The most difficult matchup for the Cats will be at 184 pounds when No. 18 John Rizqallah takes on either senior Marcus Shrewsbury or freshman Jacob Berkowitz. The most interesting contest will come just one match later at 197 pounds when sophomore No. 17 Alex Polizzi wrestles No. 31 Luke Jones.

Sunday’s matinee with the Wolverines will be intriguing up and down the docket with four matchups of ranked wrestlers. Michigan has five ranked wrestlers, but only one is listed in the top-10, No. 10 Taylor Massa at 165 pounds.

Massa will face a tough battle with sophomore No. 14 Pierce Harger in a matchup of top-15 wrestlers. NU’s toughest test will be at 149 pounds when sophomore Dylan Marriott takes on No. 12 Eric Grajales.