Emotional rivalries will fill the weekend for Northwestern, pitting ranked opponents in the 149-pound weight class against each other, reuniting two high school rivals and hosting a showdown between a coach and a former player.
The Wildcats return to competition on Sunday, traveling to the University of Pennsylvania for the Keystone Classic. The tournament features 13 programs, none of which are ranked in the USA Today coaches poll.
But the tournament won’t be a cakewalk for the Cats’ number-one ranked wrestler in the 149 lbs weight class, Jason Tsirtsis. Tsirtsis, a junior at NU and two-time defending Big Ten champion, won the Keystone Classic each of the past two seasons. But he said he’s taking a different approach to the tournament this year.
“Last year, I was coming in number one as well just because I won my freshman year and put a lot of pressure on myself,” Tsirtsis said. “This year I’m not putting that pressure on myself. I can’t be a four-time NCAA champ like I wanted to, so it’s about having fun and going out there and scoring points.”
Along with Tsirtsis, the Keystone Classic also showcases InterMat’s No. 7 ranked wrestler in the 149 lbs weight class with Penn’s C.J. Cobb, as well as the No. 10 and No. 16 wrestlers, Rider’s B.J. Clagon and Drexel’s Matt Cimato, respectively.
Tsirtsis said he is unsure of who he will face in the tournament, but the team’s game plan won’t change depending on his opponent.
“We kind of got a game plan with what we are doing this weekend,” Tsirtsis said. “With it being my first competition back, the goal is to go out there and compete, get used to making weight and trying to dominate people.”
Cats interim coach, Matt Storniolo, said the team will have more wrestlers for this tournament than it had for the Michigan State Open, but NU won’t have a full lineup.
Among the Cats wrestling in the tournament is senior Dominick Malone, who grew up in Pennsylvania and finished 4-1 at NU’s last tournament.
In high school, Malone wrestled against Penn junior Caleb Richardson, who currently wrestles in the 133 lbs weight class. Malone said he’s looking forward to returning to his home state and possibly competing against his high school rival.
“I’m close to home, so my family gets to come out and watch me,” Malone said. “It’s a good early season tournament to kind of see where you’re at and see some different competition, and if I see (Richardson) that’s always a good battle.”
While Malone could be rekindling his high school rivalry with Richardson, Storniolo will be facing his own rivalry with new Penn assistant coach and former NU wrestler, Mike McMullan. McMullan wrestled for the Cats from 2009-2013, when Storniolo was an assistant coach for NU.
Storniolo said he looks forward to coaching against his former wrestler, but this tournament is also about improving and serving as a gauge of where the team is right now.
“It doesn’t really matter where we were last year at this point,” Storniolo said. “It’s a new season, it’s a new team, and all we use this for is to identify the areas that we need to get better at individually and as a team.”
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