By Suresh Vakati

When the Kent State wrestling team visited NIU Friday night, the significance of the match reached beyond a simple regular-season conference showdown.

It would be the litmus test to see which up-and-coming program had the best shot to unseat conference kingpin Central Michigan.

But after battling to a 16-16 tie, the bout brought up as many new questions as answers about how the rest of NIU’s season would pan out.


NIU’s lightweights (125-149 pounds) always will give NIU a lead when it counts.

The dismal National Duals showing aside, this unit is THE elite lightweight group in the MAC. Senior Josh Wooton is simply lights out at 141 pounds; he swept the MAC easily last season, and he is too strong and fast for anyone this year.

Former walk-on Mike Grimes won two matches at the NCAA Championships last season and hasn’t cooled down since. While he hasn’t had the tournament success he envisioned, Grimes is a mental rock in dual meets. One of the hardest workers on the team, Grimes is now a national elite who wins on sheer grit and determination.

And Pat Castillo? Well, Castillo always wins when it counts.

First at Pointer Open. Second place at Midlands. Fourth at Kaufman Brand. Put those results together with his 2-0 record at National Duals, and Castillo is the new stud in a long line of Huskie lightweight dominance.

The 125-pound sophomore was the heir apparent to Sam Hiatt for the past two years, and he’s dominating his competition this year. After beating CMU’s Luke Smith and KSU’s Chad Sportelli, Castillo looks unbeatable in the MAC with his aggressive attacking style.

Danny Burk is the most improved wrestler on the team.

Arguments for Joe Sapp aside, Burk is the model of consistency this season and has produced against the hardest competition. The 174-pound class is one of the deepest in the NCAA, and Burk has faced probably the toughest draw of any wrestler this year.

After struggling to finish matches last season, Burk has turned into a scrapper who doesn’t let bigger opponents push him around. KSU’s Aaron Miller dominated Burk in last year’s dual, but Burk hung toe-to-toe with Miller until the very end on Friday. No one’s saying Burk didn’t have heart last year. But he’s definitely demonstrating it this year in his matches.


Is Johnny Galloway back to his old form?

Despite impressive victories since the National Duals, the jury is still out on Galloway after Friday night.

Early in the season, the 165-pound junior was tentative in his offense and looked nothing like the dominator of the previous season who racked up 27 wins and six pins. But as the year has progressed, his confidence has returned.

Against Kent State, the Iowa City native’s shots were lightning-quick, but what should have been a major decision almost turned into a pin when Galloway got caught on a shot. Physically, he’s back where he was. Mentally, he still needs to prove he can finish his matches strong.

Can the heavyweights pull out wins?

As unflattering as it sounds, NIU’s lightweights continue to bail out the heavy weights. Injuries have hampered sophomore Derek Hunsinger’s return to the lineup at 197 pounds, and sophomore Nick McClone is streaky at 184. If Joe Sapp had not found a way to get a last minute takedown of KSU’s behemoth Jermail Porter, the Huskies would have been down a quick 10-0.

Sapp has been great at times this season, but his technical fall loss to Buffalo’s Harold Sherrell was disheartening. The heavy weights need to be able to prove reliable enough so the crowd doesn’t need to hold it’s breath at the end of matches.