Wrestling: Mike McMullan heads to George Mason; Wildcats duel Chicago, Stevens Tech


Daily file photo by Ben Breuner

Junior Mike McMullan goes toe-to-toe with arguably his biggest rival in the nation, Tony Nelson, this weekend. The heavyweight runner-up in last year’s NCAA Championship, McMullan seeks to finally emerge on top after five defeats at the hands of his Minnesota foe.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Normally when Mike McMullan faces off against Tony Nelson, there is a lot on the line.

The last time the junior took on his Minnesota counterpart, there was a national title at stake. That meeting came two weeks after Nelson took down McMullan for the Big Ten title at heavyweight.

However, when the two meet Saturday at the NWCA All-Star Classic, there will be nothing but pride on the line for the two wrestlers. McMullan is 0-5 lifetime against Nelson at the varsity level, and despite the fact Saturday’s matchup is an exhibition, the junior is using it as preparation for when the matches start deciding conference and national titles.

“Any opportunity I have to wrestle him is advantageous for me,” McMullan said. “I’ve tried different strategies every time, and I’ve come a little closer every time I’ve wrestled him. Any opportunity I have to get another match with him gives me a better opportunity to construct a game plan for when it counts the most.”

While McMullan is battling it out with Nelson at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Northwestern will welcome the University of Chicago and Stevens Tech to Welsh-Ryan Arena for back-to-back duels. Coach Drew Pariano said he is excited to see who will step up in McMullan’s place in the two Saturday duels.

“When you’re missing your national runner-up in the lineup, that’s a big deal,” Pariano said. “But that’s a perfect opportunity for someone new to step up and say, ‘Hey, this is my team, too,’ and look for leadership. That puts the onus on other guys.”

The Wildcats return nine of their 10 starters from last season, including five of the six NCAA qualifiers, but the team will have to replace the impact Jason Welch had on the program both on and off the mat. The four-time NCAA qualifier and three-time All-American was one of the team’s biggest leaders last season.

There are only two seniors on this year’s roster, but Pariano said he doesn’t believe successful teams need that kind of leadership.

“In a sport like wrestling, sometimes the older you get, the more you get beat down,” Pariano said. “Sometimes the young guys come in full of energy, and the older guys have to feed off of that sometimes. … Are we looking for more leadership? Sure, we’re always looking for more leadership.”

Pariano specifically pointed to McMullan as someone who leads by example for the Cats. However, Pariano also spoke about the need for the rest of the redshirt junior class to be vocal leaders.

The redshirt junior class is quite large with eight wrestlers, six of whom started for the Cats at the end of last season. However, they are also a really talented group, with five NCAA qualifiers among them. McMullan said that experience has helped the wrestlers grow into leadership roles this offseason.

“We’ve made that transformation from being underclassmen performing well to being the upperclassmen and setting the example for the younger guys,” McMullan said. “We know what it takes to get to the national level, and we’re trying to implement that idea into the younger guys and hopefully get more guys there this year.”

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