Wrestling: Northwestern finds silver linings in Michigan loss
January 23, 2017
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Michigan quelled any chance of a Northwestern upset Sunday, dominating the home team early in a match with few positive takeaways for coach Matt Storniolo.
Facing the No. 15 Wolverines (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten), the Wildcats’ (6-4, 1-3) fate was virtually predetermined. After taking down the Cats last season 39-6, Michigan showed no signs of relapse, ravaging NU’s lineup and conceding only two individual wins in the 38-10 decision. Although the positives were sparse for the hosts, the Cats found silver linings in the performance of Jennings and 184-pounder Mitch Sliga.
The match didn’t start pretty for the Cats.
The Wolverines started the meet with a 48-second pin of freshman 149-pounder Shayne Oster, giving the team an early 6-0 lead. And Michigan continued to plow through its opponents, amassing a 21-0 lead entering the 184-pound match.
But Sliga entered the dual ranked No. 20 in his weight class and had no intention of going backward Sunday.
“A lot of times you have to detach yourself from the team’s score and just focus on yourself,” the junior said. “When you’re getting ready to compete, you have to be a little bit selfish. But you always have to keep the team score in the back of your mind.”
Sliga dominated his opponent, recording an 13-2 major decision and giving NU its first points of the match. Following the victory, Sliga boasts a 3-1 conference record and has been one of the few staples in the Cats’ lineup. But Sliga’s 75 percent winning rate only puts him at No. 2 on NU’s roster in the category.
Jennings is NU’s only undefeated wrestler in Big Ten play. The heavyweight entered Sunday’s bout with a 3-0 conference record and momentum after securing his team’s first conference victory in almost two years.
But Jenning’s match against Michigan didn’t go as planned. Weighing 285 pounds, Jennings doesn’t often leave the ground, relying on his size to immobilize his opponents. But Sunday’s match against Michigan didn’t follow script, serving as a wake up call for the Northwestern giant.
In the first period of the match, Wolverines heavyweight Dan Perry grabbed Jennings around his waist, hoisted him in the air and slammed him on the ground.
“I was panicking the entire match,” Jennings said. “The match started with the other guy lifting me in the air and that doesn’t happen very often. But once that was over and I was easily able to get my escape, the guy was susceptible to underhooks … so I just went to town on him.”
Although Jennings started the match flustered, he quickly regained his bearings, landing a collection of takedowns. The heavyweight then took complete control of the bout in the third period, pinning Perry in just over six minutes.
However, Jennings said he was upset with his reliance on his weight and that Sunday’s match showed him he needs to change his approach.
“I’ve been too used to using my weight in these matches now,” Jennings said. “It kicked me in the ass for this one, so going forward it’s not going to happen again.”
Prior to Sunday’s dual, Jennings stood at No. 24 in the coaches poll in his weight class — the first time he has ever been ranked.
Jennings said he appreciates the recognition, but won’t be satisfied until he reaches the top.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel pretty amazing to be up there — to be ranked,” Jennings said. “We got to keep climbing higher, I don’t think there’s any of these Big Ten duals that I can’t win through the end of our season.”