Wrestling: Northwestern picks up first Big Ten win in Michigan

Rohan Nadkarni, Sports Editor

Not all those who wander are lost.

Traveling through snow and sleet to and from Michigan, No. 23 Northwestern (6-6, 1-4 Big Ten) finally found its first Big Ten win of the season on Friday. The Wildcats took out Michigan State before losing a heartbreaker to No. 18 Michigan (7-4, 1-3) on Sunday.

Playing in East Lansing, Mich., on Friday, the Cats picked up their first conference win on the road despite forfeiting a weight class. In a close contest, NU knocked out the Spartans 18-15, using a big start to outlast a close finish.

The Cats won six of the dual’s first seven bouts. True freshmen Dominick Malone and Garrison White kicked things off with back-to-back wins. Another young wrestler who caught the eyes of Pariano and his opponents was redshirt sophomore Pat Greco, who was 2-0 on the weekend.  NU picked up three more wins at 157, 165 and 174 pounds after a loss at 149 by redshirt sophomore Dylan Marriott.

“I don’t know if relieved is the right word,” coach Drew Pariano said of his team’s first Big Ten win. “Our guys were prepared to have a good performance. We had guys step up and that’s how you win duals in the Big Ten.”

The Cats’ fast start was needed to ensure the win. NU dropped the last three bouts against Michigan State, including an upset at 197 where redshirt sophomore No. 16 Alex Polizzi lost to an unranked opponent. True freshman Jacob Berkowitz also dropped his bout at 184, and the Cats forfeited at heavyweight.

Redshirt sophomore Mike McMullan, the regular starter at heavyweight, continues to recover from injury. Pariano expressed the importance of making sure McMullan doesn’t return before necessary.

“Mike is real close,” Pariano said. “But the ultimate goal is for (him) to win an NCAA Championship at heavyweight. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.”

On Sunday, the Cats’ injuries caught up to them in a loss to the Wolverines. Michigan led 17-13 going into the final bout at heavyweight, but without anyone to compete, NU ceded the dual and one more chance to win.

Again, NU had a hot start that put them in a position to win. The Cats won two of the first three bouts, and wins by redshirt senior Jason Welch and redshirt sophomore Lee Munster cancelled out losses by Marriott and redshirt sophomore Pierce Harger.

But the Cats faded down the stretch, where Berkowitz and Polizzi both dropped their bouts. Pariano remained proud of his young team’s effort.

“Jacob’s doing everything he can do,” Pariano said. “He’s leaving it all out there and that’s what I like to see. And Garrison White won two Big Ten matches this weekend. Say what you want about his opponents but the kid is 18 and won twice in a row in the Big Ten.”

Even with their first win in the conference, the Cats are stuck in a dismal dual season marred by injury. Despite the struggles, many wrestlers remain in contention for post-season success in the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships. Still, Pariano refuses to look ahead.

“I would never give up on a dual,” Pariano said. “I believe in my guys way too much for me ever to feel that way.”