Wrestling: Northwestern has high expectations heading into long-awaited Big Tens

Alex Lederman, Reporter

Northwestern has waited for this weekend all year. Now, the Big Ten Championships at Ohio State are finally upon the Wildcats.

“This whole past year,” senior Mike McMullan said, “every workout, every lift, every conditioning session, I’ve been thinking ‘This is what’s going to make the difference when it counts.’ The time is finally here.”

NU’s Big Ten dual meet season didn’t go as the team hoped: The Cats had only two conference victories and struggled to pick up wins from their unranked wrestlers.

But coach Drew Pariano isn’t shying away from high goals for his wrestlers at conference championships.

The coach said he expects Big Ten titles from every individual.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 7-2 in the Big Ten or 0-6 or 1-5,” he said. “It’s time to shine. If anybody’s unsatisfied with their regular season, they get to show Saturday and Sunday that it wasn’t indicative of their work ethic.”

149-pound sophomore Jason Tsirtsisis looking to defend his conference title after surprising the Big Ten last year as a three seed. He enters this weekend seeded second behind Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen, the only opponent to beat him this year.

Tsirtsis, though, said he’s not looking ahead to a potential rematch with Sorensen just yet.

“(Sorenson) is on the other side of the bracket,” Tsirtsis said. “I’ve got to take it one match at a time. If that matchup happens, I’ll focus on it then and have a game plan for him then.

Pariano said the key for Tsirtsis is to not put too much pressure on himself. He said the goal is to minimize talk of Tsirtsis potentially being a four-time Big Ten and NCAA champion.

Meanwhile, three seniors will be hunting for titles in their final Big Ten championships. McMullan, a heavyweight, enters seeded third, 197-pounder Alex Polizzi seventh, and 165-pounder Pierce Harger fourth.

“Being that this is my fifth year now,” Harger said, “I think I’m pretty much as good as I’m going to get. It’s about just feeling good and being on top of my game on Saturday and Sunday. Those are the only two days that matter this week.”

Harger said he thinks he’s right there, noting that his only losses this year have either been close or because of small errors on his part.

McMullan, meanwhile, said a conference title would be the perfect way to end his Big Ten career.

“Traditionally I’ve done better at the national tournament than I have at the conference tournament,” he said. “But I know I can do it. I’ve beaten all the guys who are in the conference tournament, so it’s just a matter of getting it done this weekend.”

Pariano said the team has just been fine-tuning its skills and working on the little things these past two weeks. Even so, he doesn’t want his wrestlers to overthink things.

After all, they have been preparing for this moment all year.

“Trying to keep everyone enthusiastic throughout the season is always a task,” Harger said. “But as soon as this moment hits, it’s go time. The fun is here.”

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