This past week, the biggest wrestling tournament outside of the NCAA tournament took place. The Midlands, which takes place annually on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois provided some excitement for some MAC wrestlers and gave them the tune up they needed as the homestretch begins.
While there were only three MAC teams that competed at the tournament, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and wrestling only member Northern Iowa, I still felt compelled to write a story on the place finishers and this wonderful tournament. Wrestling often is skipped over in sports journalism but should get a chance in the spotlight as it is one of the most difficult and rewarding sports out there. (It’s my goal to increase wrestling exposure to MAC fans via this blog).
I wrestled my whole childhood up until my senior year when injury ended my career, so I love the sport. I grew up a huge Iowa Hawkeye wrestling fan (I know, I know, but they are the staple of excellence in wrestling and I grew up 80 miles from campus) so I loved following the Midlands. During my freshman year at NIU, 2009, I was lucky enough to work this tournament. One of my good buddies at NIU wrestled at a nearby high school and they often were table workers and he snagged us a couple volunteer positions. I was beyond excited, I was able to watch my college compete up close and watch the upcoming national champions, the Iowa Hawkeyes, from the table. I even had a short conversation with Tom Brands, a wrestling icon. This was one of the best wrestling moments I experienced, this included a very successful high school career with over 70 victories in three seasons, meeting John Smith (a gold medal winner), and having the autographs of Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson, the two biggest icons in American Wrestling. That just explains how big this tournament is to me.
For everyone else, this tournament is now on its 51st year, it invites many of the country’s top programs, and often if you win this tournament you have a strong chance of winning the national championship come March (that goes for teams and individuals). This is basically the NCAA tournament in December instead of March. I tried to come up with a comparison to it in other sports, but I just couldn’t.
College football doesn’t have a tournament, basketball doesn’t have anything comparable, and I’m not familiar enough with the other sports to be a judge of a comparison. Keeping all that in mind, the MAC schools faired very well for themselves, especially Northern Iowa.
The Panthers have long been one of the stronger teams in the country and have been on the uptick with coach Doug Schwab at the helm. Northern Illinois seems to be getting better as well. The Huskies haven’t been very consistent since the early 2000s, but have been wrestling at a higher level than in recent years.
Northern Iowa took fifth place at the Midlands this season with 70.5 team points at the tournament, behind highly ranked teams such as Iowa, Edinboro, and Illinois. The Panthers finished ahead of ranked teams such as Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Lehigh. Northern Illinois took 17th with 23.0 points and EMU wasn’t far behind with 21.0 team points.
EMU was unable to have an individual medal at the tournament. At 125 pounds, Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa, had an excellent week. The freshman took fourth in the tournament and took tournament champ Thomas Gilman to the wire as well as almost upsetting No. 1 nationally ranked Jesse Delgado in the third place match. At 165 pounds for the Panthers, Cooper Moore, another freshman, took fifth at the tournament. Cooper wrestled well recording a technical fall (winning by 15 or more points) and he made it all the way to the semi-finals before sputtering in the consolation round. He won 8-0 in the fifth place match to gain some confidence moving forward.
At 141, Northern Illinois had its first medal winner at the tournament since 2010 with Tyler Argue. Argue wrestled in high school at Chicago’s Mt. Carmel (the same school as Jordan Lynch) and took 8th in the local tournament. He made it to the quarterfinals before being bounced to the consolation, where he scored a major decision (winning by 8-15 points) to make it to the medal round before falling there.
The highlight of the tournament for the MAC was at 133 pounds. This is where 4th seeded and nationally ranked Panther, Joe Colon (now ranked No. 2 nationally after the tournament, he was No. 7 heading into) stunned the nation. He upset then No. 2 ranked Tony Ramos of Iowa. Ramos has been a favorite to be national champion and is a 2x NCAA All-American and considered as one of the best wrestlers in the Big Ten. Colon came out aggressive and got the initial takedown. This brought out the aggression of the very high-motored Ramos. Ramos struck for a shot and Colon caught him in bad position and took him to his back and recorded the fall in the first period.
It really was a stunner as Ramos pins many of his opponents and is hardly ever not the aggressor of the match. This brought Colon to the national spotlight and has him known as the guy to beat in the MAC. This team performance has the Panthers of Northern Iowa ranked ninth nationally as a team. There are four other MAC teams receiving votes. Missouri is ranked 11th, Ohio 26th, Ken State 31st, and CMU 32nd.