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Wrestling: Early struggles continue against top competition

‘Cats drop battles against both Iowa and Nebraska.

Big Ten Championship Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Northwestern Wrestling finished off a stretch of four-straight ranked conference duals on Sunday, struggling to get much on the board against Iowa and Nebraska. Here’s an update on Matt Storinolo’s squad.

Following a tough road trip at Wisconsin and Minnesota, the ‘Cats returned to Welsh-Ryan Arena on January 14, hosting the top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. As one would expect with a returning national championship team, Iowa had top-ranked talent across the board, giving NU its toughest test of the season thus far.

To start the night, seventh-ranked Michael DeAugustino took on a top-15 competitor in Iowa’s Drake Ayala. Despite a tightly contested match, DeAugustino couldn’t come out on top, losing in a close 6-5 decision.

NU came back quickly with two decisions from Chris Cannon and Frankie Tal-Shahar at 133 and 141, respectively. After securing a 6-3 lead, however, NU failed to secure another win against the Hawkeyes on the night.

In a battle of All-Americans, Yahya Thomas lost a tight match to Max Murin at 149 in a defensive 4-3 decision.

Trevor Chumbley put up a solid fight against 12th-ranked All-American Kaleb Young at 157, but ultimately found a similar fate to his teammates, falling in a 6-4 decision. From there, a forfeit at 165 and a back-to-back-to-back pin, tech fall and major decision gave Iowa a 30-6 lead with one match remaining.

Despite having success thus far at heavyweight, Lucas Davison struggled to overcome yet another All-American in Tony Cassiopi, falling 7-3. Iowa finished the night with a 33-6 victory.

While one doesn’t necessarily expect a team win against Iowa on the mats, there were a couple of matches the ‘Cats really would’ve liked to have back. Thomas and DeAugustino are certainly able to win those matches, and the absence of Ryan Deakin will always leave a few points on the table.

After a nine-day break, the ‘Cats hosted another top-15 team in Nebraska, hoping to find better results against a more evenly-matched opponent. While NU managed to put more points on the board, a couple of tight losses and some high-scoring Cornhusker wins led to another conference loss.

Wrestling out of order, the afternoon started with a 3-2 Bubba Wilson win over David Ferrante at 165. It was an even match down the stretch, but a late takedown gave Wilson the edge to start the night. Similar to the dual against Iowa, NU dropped 3 straight matches against high-ranking opponents for extra points, with a tech fall, major decision and tech fall all in a row at 174, 184, and 197.

The ‘Cats responded with three straight wins of their own, with Davison, DeAugustino and Cannon all earning decisions. Davison seemed to get right back on track after a tough loss against Cassiopi, notching another ranked win against 11th-ranked Christian Lance.

The night finished with Northwestern facing three straight top-10 wrestlers at 141, 149, and 157. Yahya Thomas and Frankie Tal-Shahar continued to stay close against All-American talent, but ultimately dropped their matches 7-6 and 4-2. Ryan Deakin made his return to the mat for the first time since the Wisconsin dual, taking home another top-5 victory over Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, 4-2.

The afternoon finished with a tough 23-12 Nebraska win, making that four straight conference losses for the ‘Cats. While tough to see, NU’s schedule has without a doubt been top-heavy, as the team has no currently-ranked teams remaining on its schedule. On top of that, facing elite competition early has forced Coach Storniolo’s younger wrestlers to develop, which can definitely be seen in guys like Tal-Shahar and Davison.

Going forward, every dual will be winnable for the ‘Cats, which can be especially helpful for gaining momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. Despite some absences, Deakin has been consistent as ever while he’s on the mat, and with DeAugustino, Cannon and Thomas all being proven winners at a high level, this team still has the chance to make noise come March.

NU returns to the mat on January 29th in Champaign to face off against in-state rival Illinois.