Wrestling: Northwestern falls to Nebraska in Big Ten opener

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Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior Pierce Harger recorded an 8-0 major decision Sunday as No. 19 Northwestern lost to No. 13 Nebraska. “It was definitely a step up in competition from our first two weekends,” Harger said.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

In its Big Ten opener Sunday, No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) fell to No. 13 Nebraska (1-0, 1-0), 25-16.

The Wildcats lost the first three matches at 125 pounds, 133 pounds and 141 pounds, and they were unable to recover. The first two defeats came in overtime, in matches where the Cats had held leads.

“We were so close to victories there, so it frustrates you,” coach Drew Pariano said. “If that doesn’t motivate you for the week ahead of practice, then I don’t know what will.”

NU entered with a disadvantage, forfeiting the 174-pound match because junior Lee Munster was out with what Pariano called an upper-body injury.

“Lee is hurt, and we don’t have a backup at 174,” Pariano said. “It’s like playing a baseball game with no third baseman. … You go in down 6 (points), and your back is up against the wall.”

Pariano said he is hopeful Munster will be healthy for the Keystone Classic this weekend.

The Cats finally got on the board Sunday when redshirt freshman Jason Tsirtsis won by decision, 3-2, at 149 pounds against No. 4 Jake Sueflohn, who has competed twice in the NCAA Championships.

Pariano said he had confidence in Tsirtsis entering the contest, comparing him to NU greats Jake Herbert and Jason Welch, and the young wrestler delivered.

“We expect Jason to win those matches, and more importantly, he expects to win those matches,” Pariano said. “He’s a very competitive guy. He looks forward to those matches and opportunities.”

Mike McMullan, NU’s two-time All-American, said he was also impressed with the freshman’s stellar outing.

“It was a good opportunity for him to show people he is at that level even though he’s so young,” McMullan said.

McMullan, the No. 2 heavyweight, had a resounding victory, pinning Nyle Bartling in the final match of the evening.

“Any opportunity to add 6 points to the team’s score is good,” McMullan said. “It helped with a boost of team morale. I was happy that I was able to give a spark.”

Last season, Nebraska matched Collin Jensen against McMullan at the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, so Bartling was a new face for the Cats.

“(Nebraska) actually put a guy out there who we didn’t know much about,” Pariano said. “But it doesn’t really matter for (McMullan) who he goes against.”

The Cats also received victories from Pierce Harger at 165 pounds with an 8-0 major decision against Austin Wilson, and Alex Polizzi at 197 pounds with a 4-2 decision against Caleb Kolb.

“It was definitely a step up in competition from our first two weekends, which was good,” Harger said. “It was important to really show that we can take a step up when it counts as the matches get tougher.”

Pariano said he was pleased with Harger’s mentality entering Sunday.

“Pierce was headstrong going into his match,” Pariano said. “He wasn’t going to go out there and win by two. He was going to go out there and dominate.”

Now a junior, Harger said he is beginning to assert himself as one of the leaders on the team.

“I try to be vocal,” Harger said. “It’s really about getting everyone to have the same mentality of wanting to work hard and wanting to do well, and I really try to push that.”

NU will return to the mat at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sunday.

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