Wrestling: Mike McMullan’s revenge a bright spot in difficult Northwestern loss

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

No. 16 Northwestern (6-2, 1-2 Big Ten) fell short against No. 2 Minnesota (5-0, 2-0) on Friday, losing 26-12 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Wildcats lost four of their first five bouts to create a deficit that they could not overcome.

“We went hard (early in the week) but totally backed off yesterday, so maybe we backed off too much,” coach Drew Pariano said. “It falls on the coaches — we obviously did something incorrect this week. We have a short week because we leave Thursday already for Ohio State, so we have a short time to fix things.”

Still, the overall loss came with an important victory for the Cats. After NU lost bouts at 184 and 197 pounds, two-time All-American Mike McMullan upset the nation’s No. 1 heavyweight, Tony Nelson, in the night’s marquee matchup.

Nelson defeated McMullan at the 2013 NCAA Heavyweight Championship in a 6-2 decision. Earlier this season, McMullan lost to the reigning champion once again at the 2013 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic, but that time he closed the gap to 2-1.

McMullan fell behind 1-0 on Friday before fighting back to force overtime, during which he achieved a 3-1 sudden victory with a resounding takedown.

“Just knowing that I executed my game plan and finally came out on top is really reassuring to my confidence,” McMullan said. “Knowing that I can beat him now, he was the only thing standing between me and my (NCAA championship) goal. … Mentally it’s going to kind of mess with (Nelson) going into the national tournament, kind of put some doubt in his mind.”

Sophomore Garrison White won the evening’s first bout with a 6-0 decision against Minnesota’s Jordan Kingsley, but the Cats quickly fell behind 16-3 with losses in their next four matches.

Juniors Pierce Harger and Lee Munster responded with victories against the Golden Gophers’ Danny Zilverberg and Alec Ortiz, respectively, to bring NU within 20-9.

Zilverberg erased a 5-point lead in the third round, but an escape by Harger in the final minute earned him a decision.

Munster, who missed substantial time with an injury in November and December, picked up his third straight win and said he feels he is back to 100 percent.

“I’m getting into a groove,” Munster said. “Dealing with injuries, every single year you have something come up. But now I’m back in the lineup, healthy, and every match from now on is going to be better and better.”

Despite McMullan’s success and Munster’s optimism, Pariano said he does not want his other wrestlers to see the victory as a silver lining in light of the team’s defeat.

“The critical thing in sport like wrestling is the whole team can’t celebrate that individual win,” Pariano said. “Those first five matches, we don’t train to look like that. They looked tired, and there’s no excuse for that — zero excuse for how we looked.”

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