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Wrestling: ‘Cats struggle against top-10 Minnesota

Tight matches and upsets help Gophers take down NU.

Big Ten Championship Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Northwestern traveled to Minneapolis last Sunday in what may have been its last regular-season dual of the year. Coming off of a solid ranked win against Wisconsin a week prior, the ‘Cats looked to carry that momentum into a tough match against the Golden Gophers but managed to pick up only two wins in a 29-10 loss.

With its February 19 dual against top-ranked Iowa having been postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test, NU was given an extra few days of rest before taking on the red hot Gophers at The Barn. Minnesota entered the afternoon winners of four straight after handing Wisconsin a 27-7 loss just two days before.

Starting the night out in the middleweights, Ryan Deakin took the mat for just the second time this year, his first being a 21-4 tech fall against Wisconsin’s Garrett Model. Deakin once again took on a ranked opponent, this time facing off against 6th-ranked Brayton Lee. While the competition may have been tougher, the results weren’t much different, with Deakin earning a 12-0 major decision victory.

While Deakin’s dominant victory got the ‘Cats off to a hot start, Minnesota quickly took control. David Ferrante and Troy Fisher took on back-to-back ranked opponents, managing to both put up respectable performances in tight losses.

In one of the more surprising results of the night, Minnesota’s Isaiah Salazar managed to pin Jack Jessen at the 5:32 mark, pushing the Gophers’ lead to 12-4. Wrestling in place of Lucas Davison at 197, Jon Halvorsen dropped another close match against Minnesota, losing 10-8 to Garrett Joles.

After a 16-1 tech fall for top-ranked Gable Stevenson over Jack Heyob at heavyweight, Minnesota led 20-4 as it made its way back to the lower weight divisions.

In another exciting ranked matchup at 125, top-five Michael DeAugustino looked to stay undefeated on the year, facing 11th-ranked Patrick McKee. Leading 5-2 with just a minute to go, DeAugustino seemed to be in great position to pick up another solid win over a high-level opponent. However, a late takedown and near-fall with 40 seconds left gave McKee the eventual 9-6 decision.

Down 23-4 and having dropped six straight matchups, NU needed something to finish strong, and Chris Cannon managed to do just that. Four minutes into the match, the redshirt first-year pinned Boo Dryden, adding another impressive victory to his undefeated season.

To round out the night, Colin Valdiviez and Yahya Thomas dropped two more very tight matches, 3-1 and 3-2, respectively. Thomas’ loss was another surprise of the afternoon, with the 12th-ranked wrestler falling to unranked Michael Blockhus.

All said and done, Minnesota left with a lopsided 29-10 win, its fifth in a row and seventh overall. While the final score wasn’t close, the fact that many of the matches were decided by one or two points shows continued growth from a Northwestern team that is still pretty young. With Minnesota being a consensus top-10 dual team, the match-by-match competitiveness is something the team can still hang its hat on.

This loss moves NU to 2-6 overall in the always-loaded Big Ten, a record largely defined by tough competition and a team lacking all-around experience. With the status of the Iowa-Northwestern dual still uncertain and the Big Ten Championships coming up on March 6, it’s safe to assume this is likely the team’s last regular-season dual of the year.

With that being the case, the team’s focus will shift to Big Ten and NCAA Championships, where a handful of ‘Cats may be able to make some noise. Ryan Deakin should be the favorite at 157 in both tournaments, giving the senior a chance to win his second straight Big Ten title and first NCAA championship.

DeAugustino, Cannon, Davison and Thomas could all be competitive and fight for podium spots in those events as well. With the regular season being a bit underwhelming in the win-loss column, it will certainly be interesting to see how the team finishes out the year.