Wrestling: Northwestern prepares for first tournament after coaching change


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Daily Northwestern

Alex Lederman, Reporter


Matt Storniolo sat at a desk that didn’t belong to him three weeks ago.

“Obviously with the changes came additional responsibility and additional work,” he said. “One of the biggest problems for me has just been finding time to eat and sleep.”

Storniolo, interim coach of Northwestern’s wrestling team, succeeded his former boss Drew Pariano after his abrupt departure from NU on Oct. 26.

Now he leads the Wildcats in his first tournament as head coach this weekend in the Michigan State Open.

“This weekend is a litmus test for us,” Storniolo said. “It’s our measuring stick to see where we are as a program and how we measure up against other programs around the country.”

Coming less than three weeks after Pariano’s exit, the Michigan State Open marks the Cats’ first test under new leadership. But Storniolo doesn’t expect the sudden coaching change to factor into NU’s season. The team and individual goals remain the same, and the expectations remain high — with or without Pariano.

“Really this has given us an opportunity to show that we’re a close-knit group here,” Storniolo said. “It’s given us the chance to come together a little bit more.”

The ambition starts with two-time All-American and former NCAA Champion Jason Tsirtsis. Storniolo said anything short of a national title for 149-pound Tsirtsis is a disappointment.

But last year’s remaining key wrestlers — Mike McMullan at heavyweight, Pierce Harger at 165 and Alex Polizzi at 197 — are notably absent from the roster. After illustrious careers at NU, the trio walked at graduation last year with degrees in hand.

In the absence of last season’s stalwarts, Storniolo said he expects returning seniors Jameson Oster, Dominick Malone and Garrison White — at 141, 133 and 125, respectively — to reach new heights.

And, most notably, the redshirt freshman class finally enters the starting lineup.

Two years ago, Pariano signed the top recruiting class in the nation, according to WIN Magazine, including three-time state champions Bryce Brill and Johnny Sebastian.

Brill and Sebastian slide in as starters at 157 and 165 pounds, along with fellow redshirt freshmen Regis Durbin at 184 and Conan Jennings at heavyweight.

The talent speaks for itself, but Storniolo said he isn’t worried about the lack of experience.

“These guys might be new to college wrestling,” Storniolo said, “but all of these guys have wrestled in some big-time competitions and big matches in the past. They expect a lot out of themselves, and their goals aren’t any different from any of the seniors’.”

Yet the freshmen begin their careers without the coach they initially committed to join. Still, Storniolo said the program will persevere.

“Obviously losing any member of our coaching staff or team is a bump in the road and is something that nobody would like to see happen,” he said. “But Northwestern wrestling is bigger than one person, and Northwestern University is bigger than one individual.”

Storniolo plans to mirror Pariano’s work ethic and remain a hands-on coach in practice versus just being an administrator, but there are ways he differs from his predecessor.

“I’d say I’m probably a little bit more of what would be described as a player’s coach,” he said. “I think a lot of that comes from that I’m closer to age with the guys on the team than Drew was.”

Storniolo’s ultimate goal as coach is to improve his team’s cohesiveness.

“Wrestling is an individualized sport,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t operate in a family-like atmosphere. That’s something that we’ve been trying to build here in the past and we’re trying to continue to try to build here moving forward.”

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