Wrestling: Northwestern’s first-half lineup secures fate in Purdue loss


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Conan Jennings grapples with an opponent. The sophomore’s victory Sunday wasn’t enough for the Wildcats.

Dan Waldman, Assistant Sports Editor


Northwestern experienced growing pains Sunday, as the team’s young lineup dug an insurmountable hole, leading to a 20-16 loss to Purdue.

The Wildcats (5-3, 0-2 Big Ten) front-loaded their lineup with inexperience against the Boilermakers (6-2, 1-1 Big Ten), starting four freshmen in the first four matches. NU lost three of its first four bouts by decisions, putting the team into an early 9-3 hole. Despite outscoring Purdue 13-6 in the second half, the Cats’ veterans couldn’t cover the early deficit.

Sophomore 165-pounder Johnny Sebastian won his match coming out of halftime in a 12-4 major decision. Sebastian said the second half of the team’s lineup wrestled well Sunday, but the wrestlers who competed in the first half can’t “use ‘young’ as an excuse.”

“Some of our guys didn’t wrestle as well as they know how, and that kind of hurts in the beginning,” Sebastian said. “I think the second half of the lineup, the last five guys, wrestled harder. Unfortunately we didn’t get to where wanted to today.”

But it wasn’t just the younger wrestlers who struggled Sunday.

In the final match before halftime, 157-pound senior Ben Sullivan lost in a critical tech fall, gifting the Boilermakers another 5 points before the break.

“We had some inexperienced mistakes in those first couple of matches,” coach Matt Storniolo said. “We needed to win two of those first five to give ourselves a shot at the dual. … We had an opportunity. That’s a dual meet we should have won.”

The Cats won four of the final five matches in the meet, but it wasn’t enough to come away with the win. Following a Purdue pin of 174-pound freshman Braxton Cody, the Boilermakers all but secured their win. NU’s 184-pound junior Mitch Sliga defeated his opponent in a 11-7 decision, earning 3 points for the Cats and cutting the lead to 20-10.

With two matches remaining, senior 197-pounder Jacob Berkowitz needed at least a major decision to give heavyweight sophomore Conan Jennings a chance to tie the match at 20. But Berkowitz couldn’t get the points needed for the major decision, winning only 7-5. Despite securing the team’s fate, Berkowitz, who is ranked No. 16 in the country in his weight class, picked up his 17th win of the season and has won six of his last eight matches.

Even with his team-leading 17th win, Berkowitz didn’t let himself off easy.

“I definitely didn’t respond to it the right way today,” Berkowitz said. “I definitely shut down a little bit at the end and clammed out and was complacent with where the match was. That’s something I have to switch in my head.”

Jennings won the final match of the meet for NU, bringing his conference record to a perfect 2-0. But the loss still left a sour taste in the Cats’ mouths.

Storniolo said he was more content with the second half but still was not pleased with how the team wrestled overall.

“I’m happier with the second half. We found wins, but I’m not thrilled about the way those guys competed,” Storniolo said. “Every one of those guys with the exception of Conan could of had a better performance.”

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