Wrestling: Berkowitz takes over in Wildcats loss on Senior Night
February 7, 2017
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Jacob Berkowitz fell behind early in the final home match of his Northwestern career Friday, but the senior recovered, pulling off an unlikely reversal to pin his opponent late in the bout. Following the pin, Berkowitz rose to his feet, stared down the Welsh-Ryan crowd and flexed for one last time in the building where he’s wrestled for the last five years.
The senior’s win represented one of the few bright spots in the Wildcats’ (6-7, 1-6 Big Ten) 28-15 Senior Night loss to No. 11 Illinois (7-2, 4-2). But while Berkowitz dominated in his final match at Welsh-Ryan, fellow senior Ben Sullivan lost in a 20-6 major decision, bringing his conference record to 0-7.
NU nonetheless picked up three individual wins in the bout, scraping together a pair of victories from the team’s first half of the lineup and adding the powerful pin from Berkowitz, who pulled out a special maneuver for his last match.
“I really enjoyed getting to pull something like that out in my last match here, especially with this being the last match to be wrestled in this exact building,” Berkowitz said. “That’s a move I hit joking around in practice sometimes. I don’t see opportunities to hit that in matches too often.”
Berkowitz collected his team-leading 20th win of the season, joining freshmen Anthony Rubinetti and Alec McKenna in the win column Friday.
Rubinetti recorded a comeback pin at 125 pounds, giving the Cats an early 6-0 lead. Trailing in the match 1-0 with four seconds left, Rubinetti inverted his body forcing his opponent to the mat and pinning him. The win was the first of his Big Ten career.
“Working down this last home stretch, we’ve just been constantly preaching never giving up,” Rubinetti said. “That’s a huge thing, just really dogging it out every last second, every second counts in a match.”
McKenna wrestled his way to a 1-1 tie, forcing the match into a sudden victory period. The 141-pounder pulled off a takedown to secure the 3-1 decision and give his team a 9-4 lead.
The Cats’ lead quickly disappeared after a series of individual losses preceding Berkowitz’s bout. The first half of NU’s lineup has struggled this season, relying on more experienced upper weights like junior Mitch Sliga, sophomore Conan Jennings and Berkowitz to pick up points for the team. But coach Matt Storniolo was impressed with his lighter wrestlers Friday.
“I’d rather the guys wrestle an aggressive match and move in the right direction as competitors and lose than go out there and wrestle like a slug and win a match,” he said.
The Cats only have two duals remaining in the regular season, taking on Maryland and Rutgers on the road this weekend in a double-header.
Though Storniolo’s team will enter the final week of the regular season with just one Big Ten win and a guaranteed sub-.500 record, Storniolo said the seniors have laid the foundation for NU wrestling to return to prominence in the near future.
“Everybody that we’ve had come through this program including those two (Berkowitz and Sullivan) have laid the foundation for what this program could be moving forward,” Storniolo said. “We’re in a bit of a building process right now but there’s not a doubt in my mind that a year or two from now we blow by teams like this and never look back.”