Wrestling: Redemption on Wildcats’ minds heading into Nebraska bout

Alex Lederman, Daily Senior Staffer


The Wildcats are coming off a weekend they’d prefer to forget.

But after losing to No. 2 Iowa and No. 11 Illinois by a combined score of 69-12, they know what they need to do to bounce back.

“We had probably the best talk we’ve had with the team this entire year today,” coach Drew Pariano said Tuesday. “It was one of the best practices we’ve had the entire year. The guys were motivated by this past weekend and are looking forward to redeeming themselves.”

That chance for redemption comes Friday versus No. 10 Nebraska (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten), but it won’t be easy. Seven of Nebraska’s 10 starting wrestlers are ranked.

“You look at Nebraska’s lineups and there’s just no weak spots,” Pariano said. “But that’s Big Ten wrestling and that’s pretty typical.”

Outside of No. 22 Northwestern’s (9-6, 1-5) top four wrestlers — No. 3 sophomore Jason Tsirtsis at 149 pounds, No. 8 senior Pierce Harger at 165, No. 12 senior Alex Polizzi at 197 and No. 4 senior Mike McMullan at heavyweight — the team did not win a single matchup this past weekend.

“In the past,” Pariano said, “different guys wrestling with a lot of pressure on them haven’t performed that well. I think trying to put the pressure on the opponent more than put the pressure on ourselves is key.”

Nebraska’s depth remains a big issue. The Cats have five ranked wrestlers among nine of the team’s 10 probable competitors against the Cornhuskers, which still falls short of the Nebraska standard of seven.

In addition, all 10 Cornhuskers competitors hold a winning record this season, with six of them having at least a 72 percent winning rate in their matches.

On the Cats’ side, three of their nine wrestlers are .500 or worse this season, and only the top quartet of Tsirtsis, Harger, Polizzi and McMullan can claim that 72 percent or better mark.

Still, Pariano said he feels confident for the future, especially after the talk he had with his team.

“It was very personal,” he said. “We went into some things people don’t even want to talk about — competition, readiness, warm-up, diet, knowing that you’re going to get tired in a seven-minute match and confronting that head on — those are things that sometimes people don’t want to speak about because it’s like the elephant in the room.”

At the very least, NU could get a boost from its top four leading the way.

Tsirtsis and Harger are slated to both matchup against unranked Nebraska opponents, and McMullan and Polizzi face the Cornhuskers’ fifth- and seventh-highest ranked wrestlers, respectively.

It could get dicey on the other side, though. Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh, No. 1 at 174 pounds, may face an unranked opponent. No. 4 James Green at 157 is set to fight unranked sophomore Ben Sullivan, and No. 8 Anthony Abidin at 141 pounds will face unranked junior Jameson Oster.

With this sort of lopsided set of match ups. the Cats will need plenty of grit, something Polizzi said the team is focusing on gathering now that it is back at practice.

“More grit, it’s a tough thing to practice,” he said. “But it comes down to just, in the practice room you put in the time and the effort.”

For his part, Polizzi is 21-6 on the season. He’s having one of the best years of his career.

Still, Polizzi said he knows the challenge ahead for NU with Nebraska, but he thinks the Cats are ready for it.

“We’ve got to make sure that every match we’re putting forth effort,” he said, “whether we have a matchup where we’re down, whether we have a matchup that we’re supposed to win, everybody needs to go out there and wrestle every second of every period. What matters is this Friday against Nebraska.”

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