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Wrestling: ‘Cats finish 2021 on high note, but falter in conference play

It wasn’t the best start to 2022 for NU.

NCAA Wrestling: NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After a nearly month-long break following another solid performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational, the ‘Cats are back on the mats, ending 2021 with two solid home victories and opening 2022 against two tough Big Ten opponents. Here’s an update on how they’ve been doing.

Following the cancellation of the Ken Kraft Midlands championships due to concerns over recent COVID-19 outbreaks, Northwestern managed to schedule a home tri-meet against Virginia and SIU-Edwardsville for December 29. SIU-E and Northwestern had initially been slated to meet in November before COVID outbreaks canceled that dual as well. As a team, the ‘Cats won both duals, ending 2021 on a high note.

Northwestern handled SIU-E with little problem, winning all but one match against the Cougards. Among the victories included three major decisions from Matt Vinci (125), Yahya Thomas (149), and Lucas Davison (HWT). Troy Fisher continued his hot start to the season with a 4-0 decision as well.

After an uneventful first match of the day, things got much more interesting against Virginia. The ‘Cats started off hot, winning four of the first five matches, including a fall by Yahya Thomas in the second period to go along with decisions from Cannon, Trevor Chumbley (157), and Frankie Tal Shahar (141). Entering the sixth match, NU held a 15-3 lead against the Cavaliers, and looked to run away with their second dual of the afternoon.

Instead, Virginia won the next four matches, including a major decision, entering the last match of the day with a 16-15 lead over the ‘Cats. Luckily for NU, their final wrestler of the day was breakout sophomore Lucas Davison, who secured his 11th victory of the season with a 9-4 decision. This match put NU over the hump against UVA, finishing the night with an 18-16 team victory, their second of the day.

A little over a week later the ‘Cats opened up Big Ten play, heading north to take on Wisconsin and Minnesota.

On January 7, NU met the Badgers in Madison, taking on a top-15 squad to open the new year. Despite a handful of very impressive individual wins from the ‘Cats, they fell just short against the Badgers, losing 19-15. Michael DeAugustino (125) opened the night with a win over fifth-ranked Eric Barnett, making a statement after more than a month away from play. Tal Shahar picked up a ranked win as well, solidifying his spot at 141 after going just 1-5 a season ago. To end the night against Wisconsin, another NU wrestler notched a top-five victory, with Lucas Davison defeating fifth-ranked Trent Hillger by a 4-3 decision.

In the end, the matches were split an even 5-5 between the two, but Wisconsin’s major decisions and tech fall gave them a boost over the ‘Cats in what was a tightly contested meeting.

Two days later, Northwestern took on Minnesota in Minneapolis, struggling far more against the Golden Gophers.

Wrestling out of order, the ‘Cats dropped their first six matches of the night, including a forfeit at 157, as Ryan Deakin was unavailable. DeAugustino picked up the ‘Cats’ first win of the night, earning his second top-five victory in three days, this time over Patrick McKee. Northwestern finished with two more victories in the last three matches, with Cannon and Thomas picking up two more ranked wins as well. Ultimately, though, Minnesota took the team victory 31-9.

Coming off of those two tough losses, things just end up getting even tougher going forward, with the ‘Cats hosting top-ranked Iowa on January 14 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Don’t expect a team victory, but there is the potential for a couple of high-ranked matchups that should provide some entertaining wrestling.