April 4, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- -- Northwestern's wrestling renaissance continued in 2007-08 as the Wildcats enjoyed another stellar campaign. Senior Dustin Fox gave NU an individual title for the second-straight season and the 'Cats' 13th-place national finish gave Northwestern its fourth-straight top-15 performance.
Several key pieces in Northwestern's return to wrestling prominence wrestled their last seasons for the Wildcats, but their contributions will not soon be forgotten. Fox, Ryan Lang, Nick Hayes and Mike Tamillow enjoyed some of the most successful careers in program history. The group combined for five All-American finishes, three Big Ten titles, three Midlands championships and 14 NCAA Championships appearances.
Aside from their success on the mat, Northwestern's outgoing seniors proved to the nation that Evanston could be a home for champions in the 21st century and the Wildcats' recruiting success shows that the country is taking notice.
After two seasons, Brandon Precin has already made his mark on the Wildcat program with a 2008 seventh-place finish. Redshirt freshman Keith Sulzer went undefeated in the Big Ten in his first year as a starter and qualified for the NCAA Championships.
Mike Benefiel, one of the most successful wrestlers in Illinois state history, redshirted this year and will be in the lineup next season. Jason Welch, one of the most accomplished high school wrestlers in California history, along with Brian Roddy, an Ohio state champion from the renowned St. Ed's wrestling program, will join the Wildcats next season.
Northwestern's season started with open tournaments to give the Wildcats much-needed seasoning for the dual slate. At the season-opening Eastern Michigan Open, Brandon Precin, Dominic Marella and Mike Tamillow all brought home individual titles.
Several Wildcats enjoyed successful campaigns at the Michigan State Open, where Precin took home the 125-pound title and Mike Benefiel
, while wrestling unattached, won the freshman/sophomore division at 174 lbs. Marella and senior Nick Hayes
finished second at their respective weights.
At the Missouri Open, Precin won his third title in as many tournaments and Benefiel, wrestling unattached, won the crowd at 174 lbs.
Northwestern opened the dual season at Northern Illinois and competed without the services of Fox, Lang and Tamillow. Without three of hits heavy-hitters, the Wildcats fell to NIU, 22-19. After two dominating wins at the Northwestern Duals at Welsh-Ryan Arena that saw the dual debuts of Lang, Tamillow and Fox, the Wildcats easily handled Eastern Michigan on the road.
The meat of Northwestern's schedule started with the 45th annual Midlands Championships hosted by the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Fox completed the first part of what Coach Cysewski refers to as the "Triple Crown of College Wrestling," with a Midlands heavyweight title. Fox would go on to complete the sequence with Big Ten and NCAA titles.
The Wildcats had three representatives in the finals with Tamillow and Precin taking second place at 197 and 125, respectively. Both Tamillow and Precin collected critical wins en route to the finals. Precin defeated three-time champion Nick Simmons in the semifinals and Tamillow defeated eventual NCAA runner-up Wynn Michalak of Central Michigan in his semifinal match.
Marty Gould, Marella and Hayes all placed in the tournament.
NU wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule with an eighth-place finish at the prestigious National Duals that saw the Wildcats defeat UT-Chattanooga and Missouri in dual matches.
The tournament always proves to be a chance for the Wildcats to get a look at some of the competition they will face at the NCAA Championships. Fox got his first shot at second-ranked J.D. Bergman of Ohio State and took his first of what would be three victories over the Buckeye. Precin, Lang, Hayes and Tamillow all finished the tournament with 4-1 records.
The always-tough Big Ten dual schedule started against top-ranked and eventual champion Iowa at Carver Hawkeye Arena. The Wildcats took an early 7-0 lead and the score was tied with two matches remaining, but Iowa defeated the Wildcats 22-13. NU's best win of the night came at 141 lbs. where Keith Sulzer defeated his first of several ranked opponents in Iowa's ninth-ranked Dan LeClere.
Big Ten season continued with a match that did not go as expected, but resulted in a tough 18-15 loss for the Wildcats to eighth-ranked Penn State. Tamillow won his match over second-ranked and eventual champion Phil Davis to start things off, and the Wildcats took a 9-0 lead, but PSU won four of the last five matches to take the tight dual.
Sulzer defeated his second ranked opponent in 10th-ranked Jake Stryaer at 141 lbs. and Precin knocked off eventual All-American Mark McKnight, in tiebreakers.
After falling to Minnesota at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats rattled off three-straight dual wins. The run started with a 25-15 handling of Michigan State in East Lansing. The usual suspects collected wins in No. 1 Fox, No. 2 Tamillow, No. 5 Lang, No. 5 Precin and No. 12 Hayes.
The following week, Hayes, Tamillow and Fox teamed up to win three of the last four matches in the Wildcats' 21-17 win over Purdue. The 'Cats trailed 17-13 before the trio of seniors led the 'Cats to victory.
NU capped off its three-match winning streak with an impressive 22-11 win over instate rival Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The rowdy crowd witnessed decisive overtime victories by Precin and Sulzer and wins by all four of NU's seniors that proved to be too much for Illinois. Illinois only won three matches in the dual.
The Wildcats fell to Wisconsin and Indiana in its final two matches, but through defeat came a critical turning point in the Wildcats' season. Against Wisconsin, Fox took to the mat with the dual on the line riding an undefeated season.
Fourth-ranked Kyle Massey gave the Badgers the win with the upset, but the Wildcat would not lose another match for the rest of the year en route to his championship and attributed his change in attitude and outlook to that night in Madison.
With the dual season behind them, the Wildcats headed to Minneapolis for the Big Ten Championships. The two-day tournament proved to be a mix of disappointment and triumph for the Wildcats. Precin and Lang won critical seventh-place matches in order to clinch a spot in the NCAA Championships field, but their performances fell short of expectations.
At 174, Hayes wrestled a solid tournament to take fourth place and qualify for his third NCAA Championships. Tamillow was convincing in his march to the finals, but fell to PSU's eventual national champion Phil Davis to settle for second.
Fox came into the Big Ten Championships looking to regain his No. 1 ranking and seize a top seed for the NCAA Championships. The heavyweight, not known for putting up big scores, ended up scoring more points for his team than any other wrestler in the tournament except for eventual Outstanding Wrestler Brent Metcalf.
The heavyweight started the tournament with a pin in the first round and followed it up with a tech fall shutout over the No. 7 seed in the quarterfinals. Fox had a chance to face Massey in the semifinals and he made the most of it to the tune of a 12-4 major decision. In the finals, Fox did not surrender a takedown and locked up riding time to defeat Bergman, 2-0, in what proved to be the national heavyweight final.
With a six-man contingent for the second-straight year, the Wildcats headed to St. Louis for the NCAA Championships looking to again bring hardware back to Evanston. Fox delivered for the Wildcats, winning his first-career title -- and NU's eighth in program history -- in dramatic fashion at the Scottrade Center.
As a team, the Wildcats overcame some tough losses to finish 13th - their fourth-straight top-15 finish. True sophomore Brandon Precin bounced back from a rough Big Ten Championships to finish seventh and collect his first All-American trophy.
Precin's campaign began against Cornell's Mike Rodriguez. The eighth-seeded Precin had little trouble advancing to the second round, taking an 11-0 major decision.
In the second round, Precin faced another Ivy Leaguer in Penn's Rollie Peterkin. Precin took the second-round match by 8-3 decision to set up the season's third match against Indiana's top-seeded Angel Escobedo.
Precin came within seconds of pulling off the major upset in the quarterfinals, but fell in two tiebreakers by riding time to the top-seeded Hoosier. The loss dropped him into the consolation bracket where he needed to win once to secure All-American status.
The sophomore came out on fire, defeating Bloomsburg's seventh-seeded Michael Sees by 10-2 major decision. The win ensured Precin a top-eight finish for his first-career All-American finish.
In the next round of consolation, Precin fell to Stanford's fourth-seeded Tanner Gardner, 5-0, to put him in the seventh-place match where he handled Old Dominion's 10th-seeded Jared Nicholson, 5-3.
Fox again put up big points and wrestled the entire tournament like a man on a mission. The heavyweight scored a 17-0 technical fall in his first match against an opponent from Columbia and then shook off an early takedown to pin his second-round adversary from VMI. The Wildcat changed his strategy from big offense to technical domination when he reached the quarterfinals, winning the rest of his matches by close scores.
Against quarterfinal opponent Bubba Gritter of Central Michigan, Fox escaped in the second period and then rode out Gritter, including picking up the Chippewa for multiple slams, in the third to get riding time and win 2-1 after giving up an escape.
In the semifinals against fifth-seeded Jared Rosholt of Oklahoma State, Fox used a late third-period takedown to stamp his ticket to Saturday night's final match with a 3-2 decision. Fox would take on Ohio State's Bergman for the third time looking for his third win.
The only points the wrestlers could muster in regulation came from a pair of escapes. Wrestlers started neutral in the first sudden victory period. Bergman got in and Fox appeared to counter. In the most action-packed part of the match, Fox looked to be in position for the takedown, but Bergman got away.
Fox was fighting a bleeding cut on his forehead the entire match, and the sudden victory period was stopped with 23 seconds left. The sudden victory period ended and the match went to tiebreakers.
Bergman got his escape, but Fox accumulated 15 seconds of riding time. With the wrestlers back at neutral, the posturing began again, but the first tiebreaker ended with no more action.
Fox escaped quickly from bottom in the tiebreaker and the wrestlers again went back to neutral. With no more scoring in the period, the match went to sudden victory period number two.
Fox had a riding time advantage and Bergman needed to take a chance with a takedown attempt. Fox countered and scored a single-leg takedown of his own to win the match in the second sudden victory period, 4-2. As the match ended, Fox celebrated on the mat and head coach Tim Cysewski and assistant coach Drew Pariano embraced in the coaches' corner.
Fox gave NU NCAA champions in back-to-back seasons. He is the eighth champion in program history and first heavyweight champion since 1932. As a team, NU finished 13th, 1.5 points ahead of rival Illinois.
Although this season was the last in a very accomplished group of seniors, Wildcat fans have plenty to be excited about for 2008-09. Next season will bring the return of NCAA champion Jake Herbert, who missed last season due to his attempt to make the United States' Olympic team.
A mixture of youth and experience will join Herbert, who will anchor NU's lineup. Precin is already an All-American at 125 lbs. while Sulzer will be one of the nation's highly ranked 141-pounders entering next season.
Benefiel will be looking to make a splash in his first year as a starter, while several returning starters will look to make their first NCAA tournaments. All of that adds up to a Wildcat squad hungry to bring even more hardware back to Evanston.