Wrestling: Amid rough stretch, Northwestern set to face Michigan State and No. 4 Michigan


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Conan Jennings prepares to take down an opponent. The senior won his bout against Ohio State last weekend.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter


Northwestern hasn’t won since beating Wisconsin in Madison on January 18. Since then, the Wildcats have dropped three straight by a combined total of 55 points.

Mired in a tough stretch which has seen NU drop five of six Big Ten duals, the Cats are headed to Michigan this weekend to play two opponents that have fared better than them recently. NU (3-8, 1-5 Big Ten) will take on Michigan State (7-6, 2-4) Friday and No. 4 Michigan (9-1, 5-1) Sunday.

There’s reason for optimism, though, after four wrestlers won their matches last weekend against No. 6 Ohio State.

Also, the team’s record against schools outside of the Big Ten is a more respectable 2-3, and each of NU’s Big Ten losses have come against squads ranked in the top 15 in the country. Coach Matt Storniolo said he worries less about the team’s record and more about its play.

“It’s finding the positives in each match,” he said. “Keeping the right mindset and keeping your nose down, your head down, and continuing to work and build for the end of the year.”

Storniolo was especially encouraged by last week’s dual, which was highlighted by shutout victories for senior Conan Jennings and sophomore Ryan Deakin.

Three key victories early put the team ahead 11-9 at the 157 pound weight class, and the Cats hung with Ohio State until the Buckeyes began to pull away at 174.

“The more wins we put up in a dual meet the better, so there’s obviously improvement there,” Storniolo said. “To go out there and win four matches, it’s not a dual meet victory but there are some moral victories for the individuals that won.”

Jennings won his matchup against OSU’s Gary Traub via an 11-0 shutout. Wins like that, he said, serve as validation amidst the grind of a Big Ten season.

“It always feels good, especially in the middle of such a tough thing like the Big Ten season,” Jennings said. “All of the Big Ten heavyweights are ranked this year. It’s just a tough bracket right now. Anything like that’s just a huge lead and just shows that you’re still there to compete.”

NU plays Michigan State in East Lansing on Friday, meaning the team will have a shorter practice week than normal before this weekend’s slate of duals.

Deakin said the truncated practice week simply means the Cats will have to do everything they normally do, just faster.

“You have less time to do everything so it’s just, making sure weight is under control, making sure you know what you need to work on and being real focused during practice,” Deakin said.

After this weekend, NU will only have one Big Ten match remaining on the season, against Illinois on February 15, before the team has its senior night against SIUE on February 23 and then gets ready for Nationals.

Deakin said the key to reversing this season’s losing culture is a short memory, the Cats have to fight as if their previous losses don’t matter.

“I think the Big Ten is the best conference in the country for wrestling so you get tough guys every week,” Deakin said. “I think it’s focusing on fighting every match. We’ve gotta win those bonus points and win those close ones, because one or two matches are the difference every time.”

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