Jekyll and Hyde. That simple phrase explains this weekend - and, to an extent, the Big Ten season - for Northwestern Wrestling. After producing a dud on Friday night in an upset loss to Rutgers (10-6, 4-5 B1G), No. 8 Northwestern (5-7, 3-6 B1G) obliterated Maryland (2-15, 0-9 B1G) on Sunday afternoon to close out the Big Ten regular season.
If it seems odd that Northwestern is ranked eighth in the country with a 3-6 conference record, it is. The Wildcats have had one of the toughest schedules in the country and have just a 1-4 record against the top 25 teams to show for it. At the same time, they feature some of the top wrestlers in the country in their respective weight class - notably No. 1 Ryan Deakin at 157 lbs. and No. 5 Sebastian Rivera at 133 lbs. - and have the potential to beat virtually any team in the country on any given day. This season, however, the squad’s weak spots have overshadowed its considerable strengths. Ill-timed injuries, particularly to Rivera, are also a sign that this team is better than their record.
At Friday’s dual meet in Piscataway, Coach Matt Storniolo and company got some bad news when they found out that Rivera and No. 18 Yahya Thomas were out. Rutgers capitalized, winning both matches against the Wildcats’ backup wrestlers in major decisions en route to a 26-13 win.
The turning point of the meet, however, occurred in the heavyweight class fought right before the intermission. Heyob, who at the time was winless on the year, controlled most of the match against the Scarlet Knights’ Alex Esposito, leading 7-2 towards the end of the second period. Then, out of nowhere, Esposito took a shot at Heyob and pinned him in the final seconds for the win. It appeared Heyob may have thought the period were over before the official made the call. The match gave Rutgers a 15-6 team lead (as opposed to a 9-9 tie if Heyob won), digging Northwestern into a hole they could not climb out of.
After No. 11 Michael DeAugustino and Dylan Utterback dropped their matches immediately following the intermission, 3-1 and 16-4 respectively at 125 lbs. and 133 lbs., any hope of a comeback was virtually dashed. The highlight of the meet was No. 9 Lucas Davison’s 3-0 decision over No. 17 Jordan Pagano at 197 lbs. to pull the ‘Cats within three. Other Northwestern winners were Shayne Oster, Alec McKenna, and Deakin.
Northwestern came out with a vengeance on Sunday, defeating the inferior Maryland 37-9 at the XFINITY Center behind wins by fall from Rivera (back from his injury), McKenna, and Deakin. The win also featured Heyob’s first win of the season in the meet’s opening match over the Terrapins’ Parker Robinson, a 9-0 major decision.
With the Big Ten regular season over, Northwestern sits at 11th in the conference. There is one non-conference regular season meet remaining, against SIU-Edwardsville next Sunday. The Wildcats will then gear up for the all-important Big Ten Championships back in Piscataway on March 7-8. The NCAA Championships will occur on March 19-21 in Minneapolis.
All rankings from FloWrestling