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Wrestling: Northwestern struggles in dual vs. Illinois

Absences continue to leave points on the mat.

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 08 Big Ten Wrestling Championships Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NU wrestling took the mat at home against bitter rival Illinois on Sunday before the Super Bowl. Hoping to break a streak of three straight dual losses, the ‘Cats had a lot on their plates with the top-10 squad. The Illini proved too much for the depleted Northwestern team, handing them a 31-6 loss.

Returning after two tough losses at home last week against Indiana and Penn State, Northwestern has continued to see shakeups in the rotation. The ‘Cats have been without at least one presumed starter in each of their first six duals, including top-ranked 157 wrestler Ryan Deakin. Nonetheless, NU still had business to take care of, regardless of who was on the mat for them.

Starting with a ranked matchup at 125, third-ranked Michael DeAugustino earned a 2-1 decision in a very defensive battle over No. 13 Justin Cardani. Having only scored one point prior to the end of the match, DeAugustino clinched the match with a riding time point to move to 3-0 on the season.

At 133, Dylan Utterback wrestled in place on undefeated Chris Cannon, who is out presumably to an injury suffered against Indiana. Cannon’s presence was missed, with Utterback losing by fall to Illinois’ Lucas Byrd at the 5:15 mark.

The 141 weight class continued to be a large unknown for the ‘Cats this week as well, with 133 wrestler Colin Valdiviez continuing to wrestle up a class. The redshirt junior lost by major decision 14-4 to No. 13 Dylan Duncan, struggling to keep up a defense against the larger wrestler.

To finish the three-match skid, Yahya Thomas dropped his first of the year at 149 against a top-10 opponent in Mike Carr. Despite the disappointing end result, Thomas put up as good of a fight as possible, losing in just a 3-2 decision. With Thomas struggling to get much love in the polls despite a previously undefeated record, his first loss might ironically still help him gain more respect as a high-level wrestler at 149.

Continuing to fill in for Ryan Deakin at 157, first-year Maxx Mayfield recorded his second victory of the season with a very comfortable 8-2 decision over Johnny Mologousis. While Deakin’s return will obviously put Mayfield back on the sidelines eventually, seeing a true freshman show signs of early success is very encouraging for the future.

Mayfield’s win was the end of the squad’s fun, however, being the final win of the night for the ‘Cats. David Ferrante and Jack Jessen both struggled against their respective top-10 opponents, losing by major decision in both matches. Troy Fisher managed to put up a solid fight at 174, but ultimately lost in a 4-3 decision to Trey Sizemore.

To finish the night, Jon Halvorsen hit the mat at 197 in place of Lucas Davison, losing in an 8-0 major decision. Heavyweight wrestler Jack Heyob fared slightly better against sixth-ranked Luke Luffman, losing in a 7-2 decision to bring the final team scores to 31-6 Illinois.

The team score obviously isn’t great, but the broken rotation is skewing results quite a bit. Missing a handful of top-15 wrestlers will likely hurt any team, and whether it be for injuries or personal reasons, NU is consistently missing a couple of theirs. Ultimately, these duals are just stepping stones toward what matters most during the wrestling season — the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. If keeping guys out right now to ensure that they’re good to go then is what needs to be done, then so be it.

NU wrestles next on Sunday, February 14 against Wisconsin in Evanston.