The Blue Devils’ two meets on the mat this weekend will be night and day. They open their dual meet slate Saturday in Evanston, Ill., where they will wrestle against No. 13 Northwestern at 7:30 p.m. and Stevens Tech, an unranked Division III program, at 9 p.m.
“We’ve been testing ourselves all year long in the tournaments—some harder than others—and we want to continue testing ourselves,” Duke head coach Glen Lanham said. “Northwestern is going to be a nice test for us.”
Stevens Tech is taking the place of No. 6 Illinois, which opted out of participating in Saturday’s meet at the last minute.
“The big thing is to provide a world-class opportunity to our wrestlers,” Stevens Tech head coach Mike Clayton said. “To wrestle a team like Northwestern that’s ranked in the top 15 in Division I and an institution like Duke that has a tremendous tradition really gives us an opportunity to test ourselves against the best wrestlers in the country.”
Nine of the 12 teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the top 25. Big Ten lineups are known for consistent excellence across all 10 weight classes.
“Big Ten—that’s the cream of the crop,” Lanham said. “You can’t get any better experience than wrestling those guys, so we’re excited about it.”
The Wildcats are no exception. Half of Northwestern’s lineup is ranked in the top 20: No. 15 Levi Mele at 133 pounds, No. 2 Jason Welch at 157 pounds, No. 11 Pierce Harger at 165 pounds, No. 10 Lee Munster at 174 pounds and No. 9 Mike McMullan at heavyweight.
“They’ve got a beast of a lineup there, and it’s going to be a hard task for us, but our guys realize that and are ready to step up to the challenge,” Lanham said.
The Wildcats’ talented roster led them to a first place finish at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia, where Duke finished in seventh place. Northwestern head coach Drew Pariano noted, however, that some of the bouts that his wrestlers won against Blue Devils at the tournament were too close for comfort. Blue Devil redshirt freshman Marcus Cain lost to Northwestern sophomore Dylan Marriott 7-5 in the 149-pound weight class, and Duke redshirt freshman Dylan Ryan fell 5-4 to Wildcat senior Marcus Shrewsbury in the 184-pound division.
“We had some head-to-head matches, and some of them were very close matches, so we’re focused on winning those matches or turning a decision around and trying to get a win,” Pariano said. “We have a lot of respect for Coach Lanham and what they’re doing at Duke.”
After the Blue Devils wrestle against Northwestern, they will retake the mat to face Stevens Tech. Although the Ducks have not made their way into the Division II rankings, Lanham is careful not to overlook them.
“Stevens Tech is pretty decent,” he said.
The start of Duke’s dual meet season marks changes in the dynamic of the Blue Devils’ wrestling-filled weekends. At the early-season tournaments, multiple Duke wrestlers were competing on different mats at once. With only one Blue Devil on a mat at a time in dual meets, his teammates will be available to cheer him on and offer moral support. Additionally, individuals’ performances affect the team score, adding a team focus to wrestlers’ minds when they are competing in their individual matches.