Wrestling: Cats test toughness this weekend against two ranked foes

Junior+Pierce+Harger+battles+University+of+Chicago%E2%80%99s+Steven+Franke.+Harger+said+he+is+looking+forward+to+wrestling+Friday+at+his+alma+mater%2C+Cincinnati%E2%80%99s+Archbishop+Moeller+High+School%2C+but+is+preparing+for+this+match+just+like+any+other.+

Daily file photo by Susan Du

Junior Pierce Harger battles University of Chicago’s Steven Franke. Harger said he is looking forward to wrestling Friday at his alma mater, Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School, but is preparing for this match just like any other.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

No. 15 Northwestern (6-2, 1-2 Big Ten) continues its difficult stretch Friday against No. 10 Ohio State (6-2, 1-2).

NU struggled its last time out against No. 2 Minnesota in a 26-12 defeat. The Wildcats had an opportunity to make a national statement against the highly touted Golden Gophers but lost six matches, including 2 pins and two major decisions.

“We keep teaching the guys exactly what they need to do to win matches, and it’s up to them,” coach Drew Pariano said. “It comes down to their toughness, actually. I’m going to put it on them a little bit.”

Friday’s match will be played at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School, junior Pierce Harger’s alma mater. Harger said he is thrilled about the opportunity to wrestle in front of friends, family and former coaches.

“I haven’t wrestled there in probably four years now,” Harger said. “I try not to get too nervous about it, but it’ll be fun.  At the end of the day, it’s no different than wrestling anywhere else. It’s still a Big Ten match, so I prepare the same way.”

Last week, Harger nearly lost a commanding lead against Minnesota’s unranked Danny Zilverberg, winning only 7-5. Harger said he has been working on maintaining his concentration through a full match this week.

“Last week, there was an injury timeout, and I kind of lost my focus after I had dominated for the first half of the match,” he said. “I think I backed off a bit like it was going to be easy to finish the match. (The coaches) have been on me hard this week to make sure I go a full seven minutes because I can’t be keeping it close with kids who aren’t in the same league as me.”

Two-time All-American Mike McMullan faces a tall task again against talented Ohio State freshman Nick Tavanello. His last time on the mat, McMullan upset Minnesota’s Tony Nelson, who was ranked the nation’s No. 1 heavyweight at the time. 

Tavanello is not nationally ranked, but Pariano called him a “very capable heavyweight.”

McMullan said he is still proud of last week’s victory but he is keeping the success in perspective.

“I have to take a step back and realize it’s only January,” McMullan said. “I didn’t win anything, like any award or anything, for doing it. Upsets can happen, as I showed last weekend. You’ve got to prepare for every match like you’re wrestling that top guy.”

Redshirt freshman Jason Tsirtsis moved up to No. 4 in the nation at 149 pounds despite a loss last week. After starting the season 11-0, Tsirtsis is 5-3 in his last eight matches.

Pariano hopes Tsirtsis will return to form against Ohio State’s No. 18 Ian Paddock.

“He needs to be dedicated to the things that make him successful,” Pariano said. “He’s got great technique, but at the same time he’s got to put that into action in matches. Once he does that and he opens up, he’s capable of beating anybody.”

The Cats face their hardest road trip of the season this weekend. After Ohio State, they will wrestle Sunday at No. 1 Penn State, who has won the last three NCAA Championships.

“It will be a good experience for guys to wrestle outside their comfort level for a variety of reasons,” McMullan said. “We’re really going to see what we’re made of this weekend.”

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