Continuing its Big Ten road trip Saturday, No. 25 Northwestern (1-2) traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, for a double-header against Maryland (0-5) and the No. 7 Cornhuskers (3-1). With a couple of typical starters returning to the lineup, the ‘Cats delivered more promising results compared to their season opener against Purdue and picked up their first win of the season against the Terrapins.
NU came out of the gate hot against Maryland, picking up victories in three of its first four matches. Returning to the mat at 125 in place of former All-American Michael DeAugustino, junior Matt Vinci bounced back from last week’s loss with a solid 8-5 decision over Zach Spence. Immediately after, 18th-ranked Chris Cannon earned his second victory of the season with a pin against Jackson Cockrell. After a hard-fought loss at 141 from Frankie Tal-Shahar, Yahya Thomas picked up his second win of the year at 149 with a 4-0 decision over Hunter Baxter.
Going into the final two matches with a narrow 15-12 lead, the ‘Cats managed to pick up back-to-back victories from vets Lucas Davison and Jack Heyob, both of whom saw their first action of the season, to secure the 21-12 victory.
Against Nebraska, Cannon earned NU’s first points against the Huskers with a dominant 14-1 major decision against Alex Thomsen at 131. After a tight 6-4 loss for Colin Valdiviez against ninth-ranked Chad Red Jr., the ‘Cats picked up two straight victories from Yahya Thomas in a 4-1 decision over Brock Hardy and Maxx Mayfield in a 6-4 sudden victory over Caleb Licking.
Facing five straight ranked wrestlers to finish the night, including three in the top-10 of their respective classes, Northwestern failed to pick up any remaining team points against the Cornhuskers, falling 26-10. Despite the tough finish, the 11th-ranked Davison put on an impressive performance against second-ranked Eric Schultz, falling just 3-2 in his second match of the year.
Although very early in a very odd wrestling season, a handful of head coach Matt Storniolo’s squad have already shown themselves to be names to watch as the season progresses. Thomas and Cannon’s 3-0 starts are impressive, especially considering they’ve combined for three major decisions and a pin through just six matches.
The return of Davison at 197 and Heyob at heavyweight this weekend certainly helps round out NU’s depth as well, with Davison being a former NCAA qualifier and presumably a top-tier wrestler in his class this season.
The biggest question remaining is when Michael DeAugustino will make his return at 125 after having a breakout season a year ago. With a shortened season, one would assume that his return will be relatively soon in order to help qualify for the NCAA Championships.
The ‘Cats, who have since dropped out of the rankings, next hit the mat January 30 in their first home match of the year to take on Indiana and Penn State.