Wrestling: Northwestern preps for Maryland, Rutgers in final duals of regular season
February 8, 2017
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Northwestern will face conference bottom-dweller Maryland on Friday in hopes of earning its second conference win of the season and shifting momentum in its favor
as the Big Ten Championships approach.
The Wildcats (6-7, 1-6 Big Ten) have struggled this season in a strong Big Ten conference. Wrestlers such as Conan Jennings, Mitch Sliga and Jacob Berkowitz have moved in and out of the national rankings throughout the winter. But the team as a whole has had difficulties keeping up with conference powerhouses and let many of its closer contests slip away.
Despite the underperforming Terrapins’ (2-12, 0-7) vulnerability, coach Matt Storniolo said he believes in preparing for competition without regard for the opponent.
“We approach this the same way as we approach any other weekend,” Storniolo said. “The goal this weekend is to go out there and wrestle to the best of our ability and not worry about what the other team’s doing.”
On Sunday, NU will fly out to face another Big Ten foe, Rutgers (11-3, 5-2), in its final dual meet before the postseason. It will be the Cats’ second multi-dual weekend in three weeks.
Jennings, the heavyweight sophomore, said he is unfazed by the Scarlet Knights’ No. 13 ranking. Over the weekend, he is likely to spar with Maryland’s Youssif Hemida and Rutgers’ Razohnn Gross, both unranked.
“I think this is definitely going to be a 2-0 weekend for me,” Jennings said. “Compared to the level of competition from the previous weeks, it’s not quite there, so I think I’ll be able to take it to these kids on the mat.”
Jennings’ confidence is justified. Despite a two-match losing streak, he has held his own with the country’s best. His loss to Penn State’s No. 3 Nick Nevills, which Jennings described as “super annoying,” was decided in the bout’s final seconds.
Sliga, the 184-pound sophomore, finds himself in a similar position to Jennings this week. A loss to Illinois’s Emery Parker last weekend was his third straight. But Sliga’s recent competition has been steep; his last three opponents were No. 12 Parker, No. 2 Bo Nickal of Penn State and No. 7 Nate Jackson of Indiana.
“I’ve just gotta keep a positive attitude,” Sliga said. “I’ve been with three of the best guys in the country. This wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I’ve been getting better each match.”
Also looking to pick up two wins this weekend is 197-pound senior Berkowitz, who wrestled the final home match of his career last Friday on Senior Day. Berkowitz’s pin of Illinois’ Andre Lee, coupled with the celebration that followed, represented one of the few highlights from NU’s 28-15 loss to the Fighting Illini.
Berkowitz will carry a 20-7 season record into the weekend, and Storniolo said that the senior is in a great position to conclude his final year wrestling at NU on a high note.
“Jacob’s an extremely talented wrestler,” he said. “The bar is set as high as Jacob wants it to be. If he goes out there and wrestles his best, there’s no doubt in my mind he could find himself on the podium at NCAAs this year.”