Wrestling: Deakin, Jennings lead Northwestern at Michigan State Open


Daily file photo by Jeremy Yu

Conan Jennings grapples with an opponent. The junior had a strong performance for the Wildcats at the Michigan State Open on Sunday.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor


Expectations were high for freshman Ryan Deakin entering the weekend. His 19-4 record in individual competitions during his redshirt year earned him a No. 10 ranking at 149 pounds entering the season, making him the only freshman in the top 20.

At the Michigan State Open, where the Northwestern wrestlers competed individually, Deakin proved the preseason polls right, rolling to a second-place finish, falling only to No. 6 Justin Oliver of Central Michigan in the final by a 4-3 decision.

“I was just getting to my offense,” Deakin said. “I didn’t treat matches differently, I was just wrestling, just trying to wrestle like I do every day in the room.”

Deakin wasn’t the only runner-up for the Wildcats, with junior Conan Jennings taking second at 285 pounds.

Jennings was bested by the No. 2 wrestler in the country at 285 pounds, Michigan’s Adam Coon. In the semifinals, however, Jennings took down Central Michigan’s Newton Smerchek, which he said was particularly satisfying.

“I’ve lost to him before,” Jennings said, “and this dominant win was a very nice revenge win for me.”

Deakin and Jennings weren’t the only NU wrestlers to place. Of the 16 NU wrestlers in the main draws, five finished sixth or higher in their division.

Joining Deakin and Jennings were senior Mitch Sliga, who finished fourth at 184 pounds, junior Johnny Sebastian, who finished fifth at 174 pounds and sophomore Zack Chakonis, who finished sixth at 197 pounds.

“We saw a lot of fight, a lot of grit,” coach Matt Storniolo said. “Those guys, finding a way to place at this tournament, it’s not an easy tournament. It’s a long day. Our guys battled through some adversity.”

Sliga pulled off two dominant victories en route to the semifinals before running into a staunch opponent in No. 6 Domenic Abounader of Michigan.

Chakonis, unlike the others, started slow before finding his groove. After losing his first match of the day, the sophomore ripped off four straight wins in the loser’s bracket. Chakonis couldn’t complete the run to third place, however, dropping one match before NCAA rules prohibited him from wrestling in the fifth place match.

The Cats’ other competitors failed to place in their respective events. Junior Anthony Petrone was one of the 11 wrestlers who came up short, partly because he ran into a familiar foe — Northwestern transfer Jason Tsirtsis, the 2014 NCAA Champion who now wrestles for Arizona State.

Still, the impressive performances from Deakin, Jennings and the other successful NU wrestlers encouraged Storniolo early in the season.

“They laid a great foundation to build off for the rest of this year,” Storniolo said. “I’m especially proud of the way some of our first year guys in the lineup competed. I think they surprised a lot of people, and the future is looking bright for Northwestern wrestling.”

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