Wrestling: Wildcats heavy underdogs against second-ranked Golden Gophers

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

Northwestern will face one of its stiffest challenges of the season Friday night.

The Wildcats (6-1, 1-1 Big Ten) will continue their homestand against No. 2 Minnesota (4-0, 1-0) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Although the Cats will be heavy underdogs against the Big Ten favorites, coach Drew Pariano is unfazed.

“I don’t care what other people think of us and them,” Pariano said. “As far as confidence for each individual athlete, that’s what’s important.”

NU’s two-time All-American heavyweight Mike McMullan will rematch Minnesota heavyweight Tony Nelson. In the 2013 NCAA Heavyweight Championship, Nelson defeated McMullan, 6-2, for his second consecutive national title. McMullan and Nelson already faced each other earlier this season at the 2013 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic in November. McMullan closed the deficit but ultimately came home with another defeat, falling 2-1.

“I know what I need to do to keep the match close,” McMullan said. “It’s definitely helping my approach this week. I’m pretty optimistic on my outlook.”

For the first time since Nov. 17 due to an injury, McMullan returned to the mat against Indiana and lost by decision, 9-4. Despite the defeat, Pariano said he feels McMullan has gotten rid of the rust and will be ready to compete at a high level against Minnesota.

“I never doubt Mike,” Pariano said. “I think Mike can beat anybody in the country, and he will.”

Matches between NU redshirt freshman Jason Tsirtsis and Minnesota’s Nick Dardanes and between the Cats’ Lee Munster and the Golden Gophers’ Logan Storley will also highlight the event.

Despite his youth, Tsirtsis has been a major force on the mat this season. His last time out, he won by major decision against Indiana’s Eric Roach. Tsirtsis, now ranked No. 5 in the nation at 149 pounds by InterMat Wrestling, will have his hands full with Dardanes, who enters Friday ranked No. 2. The two wrestlers know each other from their childhood days, with Dardanes growing up in Chicago and Tsirtsis hailing from Crown Point in northwest Indiana.

“I’ve known (Dardanes) ever since we were growing up as kids, so I’m pretty familiar with him,” Tsirtsis said.

At 174 pounds, Munster sits at No. 9 in the nation in InterMat’s rankings. After not competing at the 51st Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in December due to a nagging injury, Munster returned to the mat with a victory against Indiana’s Nate Jackson to start his Big Ten season.

“He got his feet back under him,” Pariano said of Munster. “It was a pretty dominating win even though the score was 4-0.” 

Storley, his Friday foe, ranks No. 5 in the nation and was an All-American last season.

Despite the Golden Gophers’ national ranking, reputation and dominance, Pariano and his team are not intimidated.

“We’re Northwestern, they’re Minnesota,” Pariano said. “Quite honestly, I don’t care much about their ranking. Coach Robinson always has them in the national title hunt, and that’s great for them. But it means nothing to us.”

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