Wrestling: In final home match of career, Berkowitz looks to lead Wildcats to victory
February 2, 2017
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Last weekend was a tough one for Northwestern (6-6, 1-5 Big Ten), which suffered a pair of losses to Big Ten rival Indiana and defending NCAA champion Penn State. But the Wildcats will have an opportunity to bounce back Friday on Senior Day against Illinois (6-2, 3-2).
NU’s two senior starters, 197-pound Jacob Berkowitz and 157-pound Ben Sullivan, will be wrestling their final matches at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Berkowitz said he’s approaching his bout no differently than any other that he’s wrestled throughout his career.
“It’ll be special,” Berkowitz said. “It’s a culmination. I’ve been here for five years, so it’s nice to be recognized for that. But it’s like any other dual, you still have to perform and compete.”
Last season, the then-No.13 Fighting Illini beat unranked NU by a razor-thin 25-24 margin. Despite taking a 18-0 lead into the half, the Cats lost their momentum as Illinois rallied and completed the comeback by pinning NU heavyweight Conan Jennings in the match’s final contest.
Berkowitz, meanwhile, is set for a rematch with Andre Lee. Berkowitz pinned Lee last winter and said he is prepared to defeat the familiar face a second time.
“Last year we had a back-and-forth match,” Berkowitz said. “He may be unranked, but it’s going to be a tough one. I have to push the pace and attack, rather than letting him bring the match to me.”
On the other hand, 184-pound junior Mitch Sliga, who has slipped out of the rankings after spending a number of weeks at No. 20, is looking to rebound from a slew of losses to tough opponents. He lost to No. 7 Nate Jackson of Illinois for the second time this season and later to Penn State’s No. 2 Bo Nickal.
Coach Matt Storniolo said he thinks Sliga has persevered and performed over the stretch.
“In chances he’s gotten to have rematches with guys he’s wrestled earlier in the year, he’s doing a better job the second time around,” Storniolo said. “He’s probably had one of the toughest competition schedules of anybody on the team, but he’s been doing a good job and improving week to week.”
Yet Sliga’s struggles have been representative of the Cats’ troubles throughout its lineup, which has found itself competing with top 25 opponents week after week. Besides No. 2 Penn State, NU has lost to the likes of No. 23 North Dakota State, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 12 Michigan this season.
Still, echoing the sentiments that Storniolo has stressed all season, Sliga said that the Cats must make up for what they don’t have in top-tier wrestlers with the attitude they bring to their matches.
“We’re on the right path,” Sliga said. “We have to keep going into the these meets with the right mindset. Even though we’re the underdogs, we have go out there to fight and try to win.”