Wrestling: White making most of opportunity

Freshman Garrison White wrestles during the Wildcats dual against Purdue. White is competing in place of injured redshirt senior Levi Mele.

Jai Broome/The Daily Northwestern

Freshman Garrison White wrestles during the Wildcats’ dual against Purdue. White is competing in place of injured redshirt senior Levi Mele.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Garrison White’s big debut on the college scene wasn’t supposed to happen until next year.

The freshman was working through a successful redshirt season when senior Levi Mele suffered a season-ending injury. Not wanting to forfeit an entire weight class for the rest of the season, coach Drew Pariano burned White’s redshirt at 133 pounds and let the freshman loose in the best wrestling conference in the nation, the Big Ten.

“I was just trying to stay kind of relaxed,” White said about his mindset before his first match. “The whole year I was ready to step into the lineup if I was going to be needed. I already prepared myself for that moment so as soon as (Pariano) said ‘Be ready to weigh-in; be ready to wrestle’ I just kind of clicked into the varsity mode.”

Through seven varsity duals White has a 3-4 record, but he pulled off back-t0-back Big Ten wins on Northwestern’s trip to Michigan State and Michigan from Jan. 25 to 27. The wins came on the heels of the first rankings from the coaches, which seeded him No. 30 at 133 pounds. The rankings took into account his 18-9 record while wrestling in tournaments unattached, but Pariano said the two wins in Michigan help justify his ranking despite so few varsity starts.

“When you’re 18 or 19 years old and you’re wrestling in the Big Ten, that can be a daunting task,” Pariano said. “Winning those two matches shows him all the hard work he’s been putting in this year at the open tournaments has been paying off.”

White’s season has been split into two parts by the calendar. In 2012, White participated in five tournaments as an unattached wrestler, placing third at the Wisconsin Open hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and the CSU Open at Cleveland State. However, he has only wrestled at the varsity level in 2013, starting at 133 pounds in all seven of the Wildcats’ duals in the new year.

Before entering the Big Ten, White said he thought of the conference as a sort of professional league for folkstyle wrestling, slightly different from the type of wrestling at the Olympic Games. He admitted it has been a wildly different experience than what he was anticipating when he came to NU.

“You always think in your head that it’s going to be harder, more grueling, there’s going to be better competition,” White said. “It’s (0ne) thing thinking that and it’s another thing experiencing it.”

One person who has helped make the transition easier for White is his training partner and roommate on the road, Dominick Malone. The 125-pounder is also battling through the Big Ten as a freshman, and Pariano said it is important for the two to have a good camaraderie. Malone said White is serious about his studies, referencing how White was always doing homework when the two roomed together on the road.

Malone said having someone like White has been beneficial for him as well. He said the two have some really competitive matches in practice, but most importantly, White and fellow freshman Jacob Berkowitz have helped Malone become less lonely on the road.

“Traveling before, I was the only freshman for a few events so it was nice to get to know the bigger guys and older guys, but I missed a lot of the stuff that happened with the freshman when they were home … ” Malone said. “(White and Berkowitz have) been my friends all year and now they’re traveling with me so it’s been awesome.”

Even though White has gotten off to a good start in his career for the Cats, he has been able to keep a level head. He said the four months on the bench made him hungry to compete with the team, but said his teammates will always put him in his place.

“I got good partners in the room to keep my confidence in check,” White said. “I got guys in there beating me up everyday and we’re just going at it so I don’t think anybody gets too big of a head in this room.”