The road ahead for the MSU wrestling team doesn’t get any easier as they take on No. 16 Northwestern at 6 p.m. Friday in Jenison Field House.
The Spartans (4-7 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) have lost four straight matches, including their last two in the Big Ten to No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Iowa.
“It’s kind of an endless stream of top-level competition,” head coach Tom Minkel said. “The good thing about wrestling in the Big Ten is as you go through the season, you really learn to understand what it takes to be at the top of the NCAA in a pyramid. Week after week we’re seeing these teams.”
With senior 157-pounder David Cheza out indefinitely, sophomore Ryan Watts will take his place at the weight class and compete against Northwestern’s highest-ranked wrestler, No. 2 Jason Welch.
After a very emotional performance against Iowa that saw two fights and led to extra points for both teams, Minkel said he expects the dual against Northwestern to be much calmer.
“Northwestern is a very academic, intellectual college and so you tend not to have the lack of civility that you have when you wrestle the Iowa program,” he said. “We expect it to still be a great fight, but a little more sportsmanlike.”
Northwestern has six ranked wrestlers in the lineup, and MSU has three with No. 7 heavyweight Mike McClure, No. 18 184-pounder John Rizqallah and No. 20 149-pounder Dan Osterman.
For the first time in his Spartan career, Rizqallah is ranked in the latest InterMat rankings, a status he said he will be using as a springboard for the rest of the season.
“For myself, I just use that as a stepping stone,” Rizqallah said. “It’s something I can compete with for myself. Hopefully next week when they come out, I’ll be 17th or 16th, so you move up from there. Progress rather than go backwards.”
Rizqallah has won 15 of his last 17 matches and is coming off an upset victory over then-No.11 Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa.
He said the key to defeating the Wildcats will be winning all the close matches that haven’t gone their way in the past.
“I’m looking to score some points this time,” he said. “I’m looking to not only be in the matches, but we need to start winning the matches. That should be our goal, to start winning the close ones. We’ve got to get a win and break this streak that we’re on.”
Both MSU and Northwestern are looking for their first win in the Big Ten.
Freshman 174-pounder Jordan Wohlfert is in his first year in the difficult Big Ten and said he, much like the rest of his team, expects to be in a better position.
“It’s been a big jump from high school to the college level,” Wohlfert said. “I’m happy with my performance so far, but there’s a lot I need to improve on. I want to get to that next level and be on the podium when it’s all said and done. I’ve just got to keep my head up and keep working.”
For Minkel, facing off against Northwestern will be a lot different than the physical fight they experienced against Iowa, and said this could be a turning point in the season.
“It will be a good dual, they’ve got a good team.” Minkel said. “Hopefully we have made some good progress where we can start beating some of these (ranked) teams.”