Wrestling: Northwestern regroups, splits against conference foes

Alex Lederman, Reporter


The Wildcats returned to Evanston on Sunday with their heads held high, even with a disappointing start to the weekend’s road trip.

After a close 22-17 loss Friday at No. 23 Purdue (8-5, 1-3 Big Ten), No. 17 Northwestern (9-4, 1-3) rebounded with a 37-9 victory at Indiana (2-5, 0-4).

“I’m proud of the team the way that we came back,” coach Drew Pariano said. “Some teams hang their heads after a tough loss, but for us, the coaching staff and the team, we had a big heart-to-heart after the loss. It was probably uncomfortable for some guys, but for other guys it was motivation, and we went out there and finished on a win.”

No. 7 senior Pierce Harger was particularly impressive. On Friday, the 165-pounder pinned his opponent in less than a minute — 54 seconds to be exact — and Sunday, Harger beat one of his biggest rivals, No. 4 Taylor Walsh.

And Harger didn’t just defeat Walsh — he dominated. He won 15-0 by technical fall, a victory that felt extra sweet against the wrestler who beat him twice this year at the finals of both the Keystone Classic and the Midlands Championships.

“We’ve really prepared and had a game plan for him,” Harger said of Walsh. “He’s a big move kind of guy, that’s what he does. He throws headlocks and tries to pin everyone, and he’s pretty good at it. We really looked to make sure that he didn’t get to his A-game. I think I stunned him a little bit.”

Pariano called Harger ‘s performance “dynamic” and said he was particularly proud of the senior.

“(Walsh) beat us twice this season, including in our gym, and then we go into his gym and win 15-0 and were really, really close to getting a fall,” Pariano said. “You can’t get any more convincing in our sport than that. That shows that there’s progress. That shows that there’s maturity.”

No. 1 sophomore Jason Tsirtsis also turned heads. The reigning NCAA Champion at 149-pounds advanced to 24-0 this season and extended his win-streak to 40 with two more W’s on the weekend. Although he only won 4-1 on Friday, he turned up the heat Sunday with a 23-9 major decision thrashing.

“We talk about some of the technical improvements he can make,” Pariano said. “It’s amazing. He’s a national champ as a freshman, but he knows he can widen the gap on people, and he did that Sunday. People do wrestle him a little tentatively and they wrestle to keep the match close and that frustrates him a little bit.”

And how does Tsirtsis handle the burden of carrying such a striking streak?

“There’s some pressure there with the streak,” Pariano said. “But he’s the type of kid that he’s always had pressure in his life. He’s a four-time big champ in high school and junior national champ. Pressure is part of his life.”

No. 4 senior heavyweight Mike McMullan and 141-pound junior Jameson Oster also had weekends to remember, with two major decision wins for McMullan and a fall and major decision victory for Oster.

At Indiana, 184-pound redshirt NU freshman Mitch Sliga came away with his first career Big Ten triumph.

The signs are bright for the Cats, but it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. Next weekend, NU is back on the road at No. 2 Iowa and at home against No. 9 Illinois.

“There’s ups and downs, but I like where we’re heading,” Pariano said. “We’re a resilient team. We went on the road and lost to somebody we really thought we had a good shot at beating, but then we regrouped on Sunday and had a great performance. We need to build on that.”

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