While wrestling at Crown Point High School, Northwestern redshirt freshman Jason Tsirtsis was a four time Indiana state champion. In his first season of competition at NU, he decided to keep the streak going. He defeated Oklahoma State’s Joshua Kindig to win the 149 lb. NCAA Championship on Saturday night in Oklahoma City. He is the first freshman in Northwestern history to earn a national championship, and he helped NU to secure a ninth place finish at the NCAA.
Tsirtsis won the championship match with a takedown in overtime. After a scoreless first period, Kindig took a 1-0 lead in the second period with an escape. Tsirtsis returned the favor in the third period, scoring an escape to tie the match. Tsirtsis was more aggressive in the overtime session, making a shot at Kindig’s leg. Kindig skillfully worked to avoid the takedown, but Tsirtsis managed to complete the maneuver to score a 3-1 overtime win. The victory eliminated Oklahoma State from the team national championship race, disappointing a large percentage of the sold out crowd.
Tsirtsis, Big Ten champion and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had a difficult path to the Championship match. Despite winning the nation’s toughest conference, he was seeded fifth in the NCAA tournament. After advancing through the first day of competition, he faced two extreme tests on Friday. First, he was matched against defending NCAA 141 lb. champion Kendric Maple of Oklahoma. The match went into extra time, where Tsirtsis pulled out a 2-1 win. Maple held a 1-0 lead with less than a minute to go in the match, but Jason was able to score an escape point to force overtime. He took the lead on another escape, then literally held on for victory as he prevented Maple from scoring an escape point in the closing seconds of overtime.
The 149 lb. semifinal match was against top-seeded Drake Houdashelt of Missouri. This match will long be remembered in the history of NU sports. It was another epic overtime match, with the score tied 1-1 on extra time. Sports writers sometimes use the term “last second escape”….but in this case it was literally true. Houdashelt had control with nine seconds left in OT, but Tsirtsis managed to escape with one second left. Tsirtsis, who had blood dripping down his face, jumped into the arms of Head Coach Drew Pariano to celebrate the upset.
For the second time in three years, Northwestern finished ninth in the final team standings. NU featured three All-Americans -- in addition to Tsirtsis, Junior Pierce Harger finished eighth at 165 lbs., and Junior Mike McMullen finished third in the Heavyweight division. McMullen’s tournament included an 18 second pin of Indiana’s Adam Chalfant in the consolation semifinal match. McMullen, who was national runner up in 2013, defeated Iowa’s Bobby Telford in the third place match.
This was Northwestern’s ninth top-20 finish in the past ten NCAA championships. The run has included four national champions (Dustin Fox in 2008, Jake Herbert in 2007 and 2009), and it is not expected to end anytime soon. All three of this year’s All-Americans will return next season, as will NCAA qualifiers Alex Polizzi and Dominick Malone. In addition, Coach Pariano signed the nation’s top recruiting class this year, which features high school state champs from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and New Jersey.