Last spring, Northwestern qualified 11 wrestlers to the national tournament and had one named an All-American.
This season, the Raiders are looking to up those statistics even more.
They have a record breaking 34 men on the roster and a schedule filled with formidable opponents, including NCAA D-I Air Force, NCAA D-II Augustana and last year’s NAIA national champion, Grand View College. With only two seniors on the roster, the NW wrestling team is youthful but eager to compete.
“We definitely want to compete and finish in the top five in the GPAC,” said sophomore 165-pounder Tyler Schaefer. “We are very young, but that just means that we have go as hard as we can and condition both physically and mentally to achieve those goals.”
In addition to a tough schedule, qualifying for the national tournament is now tougher than previous years. Instead of qualifiying by placing at any open or invitational, wrestlers can now only qualify through the NAIA Qualifying Tournament. This drastically limits the opportunities to qualify. There will also be some “wild card” bids for some that finish just outside the standard margin.
In the 125-lbs. weight class, freshman recruit Lupe Florez will be looking to fill in the void of senior national qualifier Diego Angelo Quintana, who is redshirting this season.
In the 133-lbs. weight class, returning sophomore and national qualifier Richard Ortiz and senior Pedro Ruiz are hoping to be wrestling in March. Freshman recruit Tyler McWilliams will complicate the fight for a varsity spot as well after not being allowed to lose the weight needed to compete at 125-lbs.
The 141-lbs. weight class features redshirt sophomore JL Mayo, freshman Jon Grevengoed and junior Nathan Manfull.
At 149-lbs., sophomore Brett Gudeman is expected to build off of a season in which he qualified for the nationals. Junior transfer John Lynch and freshman Steven Schaffer will also compete at the position.
In the 157-lbs. weight class, junior Mark Evjen and sophomore Jason Swets are the front-runners in a wide-open class.
All-GPAC sophomore Zach Fishman, who had an impressive 30 wins last season, moved up in the offseason to now wrestle in the 165-lbs. weight class. He will be joined by Schaefer and junior Jesse McCann.
For the 174-lbs. weight class, redshirt junior Aaron Ruskell and sophomore Isaac Ruiz will both look to repeat as national qualifiers.
Junior Chris Michael, and possibly Ruskell, will battle at 184-lbs. Both wrestlers’ normal competitive weight is 174-lbs.
Returning sophomore letter winner Forrest Marx is expected to lead the 197-lbs. weight class, and will fill the shoes of graduated All-American Nic Leither. Marx spent most of last season battling out of class in the heavyweight division.
At this time, the Raiders are without a wrestler to fill the 285-lbs. weight class.
“For us younger guys, it’s important that we get used to the quicker pace in college,” Schaefer said. “Coach [Rik Dahl] talks about how we cannot base our whole season on one dual and that early in the season it is more of a learning experience.”
The Raiders return to the mat at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Johns in Collegeville, Minn.