Wrestlers give big boys a handful in twin losses

By Jeff Kirik

This season has been a struggle for the NIU wrestling team—a struggle for respect.

The 2-7 Huskies dropped dual meets to nationally ranked Nebraska and Northwestern teams this weekend, but Coach Ed Vatch said his squad may have taken a couple more steps down the championship trail.

“I think we wrestled well even though we didn’t get the wins this weekend,” Vatch said. “Everything we do right now is a stepping stone. I feel real positive about our progression. These kids are winners, not quitters.”

NIU opened the weekend at home Friday against 21st-ranked Nebraska. The Huskies jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead when 118-pound Tony Calderone beat Jim Sanchez 16-4.

“Tony was awesome Friday night,” said Vatch. “It makes a real difference when you get a win to start a meet. It really fires the kids up.”

With the score tied 12-12 through six matches, Nebraska took control. The Huskers took wins in the 167-pound, 177-pound and heavyweight weight classes to seal a 25-15 win.

Other NIU winners were Nate Allison, Joe Madonia and Tom Hoy. Heavyweight Paul Svachula lost by default when he injured his ankle late in the first period of his match. Nebraska was leading 19-15 when the match was called.

Vatch said he was not the only one who was impressed by his team’s showing.

“The Nebraska coach (Tim Neumann) told me he told his team after the meet that there were 10 reasons why they almost lost and the 10 reasons were the NIU wrestlers,” said Vatch. “We went out there and battled them.”

Saturday night, NIU traveled to Northwestern to meet the 18th-ranked Wildcats. NU pulled out a 29-7 win, but Vatch said the score didn’t show the closeness of the meet.

“We lost a lot of close matches against Northwestern,” he said. “We were a heck of a lot more aggressive than them. We were taking all the shots.”

The Huskies lost each of the first three matches before the 142-pound Allison pulled out a 5-2 win.

“Nate won a tough match. He lost to that kid on a referee’s decision earlier in the year,” said Vatch. “I was really pleased with Nate. He had a revenge factor and he won.”

In the next match Tim Cocco routed his 150-pound opponent 16-6. From that point on, the Wildcats took command, winning the last five matches.

Vatch said the meet was a tough one to lose because of the number of tight defeats the Huskies suffered.

“Joe Madonia, Tom Hoy and Eric Wenckowski all lost by one point,” he said. “They (the Huskies) are getting a little frustrated. They keep walking off the mat thinking, ‘I should have won that one.'”

NIU will be in action again Feb. 1, when it competes in the Indiana Hoosier Invitational.