It’s almost winter, and you know what that means —
basketball wrestling season! While the folks on the hardwood get most of the attention during the coldest months of the year, it’s important to remember that NU has a wrestling squad too, and they’re pretty damn good.
Sitting at 16th in the Coaches Poll, Northwestern has a team full of guys looking to compete in the Big Ten this year. Here’s a little bit about the team before we get into the thick of what looks to be another highly competitive Big Ten wrestling season.
2018-19 Season Review
Last season, the ‘Cats faced a difficult regular-season dual schedule laden with highly ranked Big Ten foes. Wrestling 15 duals, they finished 5-10 overall and went 2-7 in conference play.
Outside of duals, they placed 14th out of a field of 43 at the CKLV invitational in Las Vegas and posted an impressive 3rd place finish out of 67 teams at the Midlands Championships, their highest team finish since 2014. At the Midlands, NU saw both Sebastian Rivera (30-2) and Ryan Deakin (31-7) come away with first-place finishes at 125 and 157, respectively.
As a team, Northwestern tied for 8th at the Big Ten Championships. Deakin and Conan Jennings (20-12) both placed 5th at 157 and 285 respectively, while Rivera was able to capture his first Big Ten Championship, defeating conference rival and defending national champion Spencer Lee (23-3) in the 125-pound championship bout. Shayne Oster (12-14) finished 7th at 149 as well, his second time doing so.
Northwestern saw five wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Champtionships in March, with Rivera at 125, Oster at 149, Deakin at 157, Tyler Moreland (7-11) at 165 and Jennings at 285. Of these five, two wrestlers, Rivera and Deakin, placed in their respective divisions.
Rivera was able to land a third-place finish, the highest of his career at the NCAA championships, while Deakin placed 6th, a career-high as well. As a team, Northwestern finished 22nd at the NCAA Championships, their best mark since finishing 14th at the 2015 Championships.
While the squad’s duals record was noticeably worse than it had been in the 2017-18 season, last year’s team was able to finish two spots higher in both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, showing crucial growth from some of their younger starters.
The ‘Cats had six departures this offseason, all due to graduation. Zack Chakonis (197), Braxton Cody (165), Conan Jennings (285), Anthony Petrone (157), Anthony Rubinetti (133), and Johnny Sebastian (174), each a fourth or fifth-year wrestler, left spots to be filled for this upcoming season. Of these departures, Chakonis, Jennings, and Sebastian are the biggest losses, all playing a significant part in last season’s lineup.
The biggest individual loss looks to be Jennings at 285, as he was one of five NU competitors to make the NCAA Championships. Over his four years in the starting lineup, Jennings placed 8th at the Big Ten Championships once and 5th twice.
While Northwestern lost some production on the mat, they have plenty of new faces coming in to fill the empty slots. Seven true freshman join the team, most of whom will see the mat unattached this year.
At 285, redshirt first-year Jack Heyob will replace Jennings. Redshirt first-year Lucas Davison looks to replace Chakonis at 197 as well. Despite last year’s starter, Brandon Devine, being just a sophomore, redshirt first-year Jack Jessen has taken over the starting spot at 184.
Aside from these three replacements, there have been some other changes to the lineup in the first two duals (however, I wouldn’t necessarily count on these to be permanent). Against Virginia Tech and UNI, Rivera wrestled up at 133, with Michael DeAugustino filling the 125 slot.
Similarly, Yahya Thomas, who wrestled last season at 141, and is still listed as such, wrestled at 149, while redshirt sophomore Jack Tolin wrestled up at 141 from his usual 133 weight class. Last year’s 149 starter, Shayne Oster, wrestled up at 165 as well.
Let’s start with a recap of the team’s first two duals, against No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Northern Iowa. Northwestern began the year by traveling to Blacksburg to take on the highly-talented Hokies. Using the lineup I had previously mentioned, Northwestern fell to VT 21-18, being inched out in the heavyweight match. Despite the loss, five Wildcats were able to secure their first victories of the year.
In their second dual against UNI, the ‘Cats were able to capture their first team win of the year, outscoring the Panthers 24-20. The dual included two notable victories, with Michael DeAugustino defeating 9th-ranked Jacob Schwarm and Shayne Oster securing five points in a 15-0 tech fall in the 165 bout. Overall, both duals showed some impressive performances, especially for those who were wrestling up a class (or two).
Coming off of a season that saw some solid individual performances, Coach Storniolo looks to try and bring it all together this year. While Rivera and Deakin have Big Ten and National Championship aspirations on their mind (both currently sit at third nationally in their respective weight classes), others on the team could be looking to do big things this year as well.
Oster and Morland both look to build off of their NCAA-qualifying seasons, possibly looking to place higher at the Big Ten Championships too. Overall, this team looks to have the potential to improve their finish at both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships for the second season in a row, and may even have some individual champions when all is said and done.