InterMat catches up with Northwestern coach Drew Pariano and talks to him about this past season, Jason Tsirtsis, incoming recruits, NCAA championship proposal, and more.
Drew Pariano celebrates after Jason Tsirtsis wins the NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Northwestern is coming off a ninth-place finish at the NCAAs. Overall, were you and your staff pleased with the team's finish this past season?
Pariano: Pleased is probably a good way to put it. But we're never satisfied. We had several guys wrestle above their seeds. Obviously, we were in some tight spots with the seeding. I feel like we're not totally taking into consideration the grind of the Big Ten tournament anymore when it comes to the seeding. We had our work cut out for us and tough guys all the way through. I'm very proud of the guys. My assistant coaches Jay Borschel, Matt Storniolo, Conor Beebe, and Tim Cysewski were instrumental to our team's success at the NCAAs. Mike McMullan coming back for third after he was disappointed, and then Pierce Harger getting his first All-American status was great. He worked really hard with Borschel and got it done, but he's not satisfied. He wants to win a national title.
When the NCAA brackets were you released and you saw that Jason Tsirtsis was seeded No. 5 after winning the Big Ten title, what was your reaction?
Pariano: A little bit of confusion. He had just beaten Nick Dardanes head-to-head. He lost to him in the dual. I get that. But when you beat him at Big Tens on a bigger stage that should carry a little more weight. I felt like Dardanes was sitting down there in a pretty good spot. Jason ends up getting a national champion in the quarters, and even Busler in the first round. That's a tough match. Then English in the second round, and that kid was wrestling great. Jason just really earned that championship. He beat Houdashelt in the semis, the No. 1 guy.
Jason Tsirtsis defeated top-seeded Drake Houdashelt of Missouri in the NCAA semifinals at 149 pounds in Oklahoma City (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)What kind of impact has Tsirtsis had on your program since he arrived?
Pariano: He's a guy that you knew was going to be very good. I think there are a lot of guys like him now that you just know are going to very good. You knew David Taylor was going to be very good, Kyle Dake ... Some of these younger guys you just know they're going to be very good. But at the same time, you have to make some adjustments. Many of those adjustments he made this season were just getting acclimated to the grind of the long season. A redshirt season doesn't necessarily prepare you for the grind of the Big Ten season. He did a good job toward the end of the year doing everything right ... dieting right, sleeping right, studying right, watching video, doing extra workouts. He did it right.
Tsirtsis mentioned after winning his NCAA title that he's going to start training for freestyle. What are his competition plans for this spring and summer?
Pariano: He just took a match with Aaron Pico at the Beat the Streets event in New York City on May 7, which I know is going to be heavily talked about. Then probably University Nationals, and then the Senior World Team Trials. So he has a full docket.
Mike McMullan dropped a tight match in the second round to Austin Marsden, but came all the way back to finish third. What was your takeaway from his performance in Oklahoma City?
Pariano: Just toughness. He knows he didn't wrestle a good match against Marsden. Marsden did what he had to do to win. There was so much frustration there. But at the same time he took it in ... and took it literally one match at a time, beats Medbery, pins Chalfant in 18 seconds, and then beats Telford, who is a hard guy to beat. He just did a great job coming back through. He did not have an easy road. You look at that heavyweight bracket ... there aren't too many easy spots in there.
Stevan Micic recently won his third straight state title (Photo/Paul Tincher, IndianaMat.com)You have signed three of the nation's top 20 recruits in Bryce Brill, Johnny Sebastian, and Stevan Micic. What kind of impact do you expect those wrestlers to have on your program?
Pariano: It just continues to build. I give credit to my assistant coaches and the current guys on the team for creating that environment. I think they've created an environment where we now expect to challenge for a trophy. The days of just wanting to finish in the top 15 are long gone, and I think the recruits see the vision. Another thing the recruits said is they like the fact that they can be a part of something special here at Northwestern, kind of like what we had in 2007 when we were fourth with Herbert, Lang, Tamillow, and Fox. That was a very special time for our program. Those guys felt like they earned that. They had some ownership in that. I think these guys feel the same way. I think they feel like they can make a difference. They were recruited by everybody ... Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Michigan, whoever. But they just decided that Northwestern was the place for them academically and athletically, and we're excited to get them up here as soon as possible.
Do you expect the incoming recruits to challenge for spots in the lineup next season?
Pariano: It's a case-by-case situation. We have to look at who we have coming back at the weight class, but at the same time we want to put our best team out there. Sometimes redshirting isn't always the best answer. Redshriting sometimes takes you out of your element. It takes you away from competing every weekend. I think we do a really good job of sitting down with the guys and figuring it all out. It's not like a dictatorship where the coach just says, 'Hey, you're going in there.' We sit down collectively as a staff with the student-athletes and decide what's best for them.
Maryland and Rutgers are both competing in the Big Ten starting next season. What are your thoughts on the addition of those two programs?
Pariano: I think they're both on the rise. Kerry McCoy and Scott Goodale are both doing a great job. Rutgers had an All-American this season, and then they're getting Ashnault off resdshirt and a lot of other good guys. Maryland had a national finalist this year. You're just adding two more hammers to the conference. It's going to make the conference tournament that much tougher. Now we're doing nine duals a year. There's no easy road in the Big Ten.
How are plans coming along for the 52nd Ken Kraft Midlands Championships?
Pariano: It's going well. I think we're going to have some teams back ... obviously, we have the mainstays. I think teams are bouncing back and forth between the Scuffle and Midlands, and for me that's OK. We're going to get a lot of East Coast teams this year and Big Ten teams. We would like to get Iowa State back. Adding Michigan a few years ago was great because they had taken kind of a long hiatus from the Midlands. It's kind of a rotating thing. We would love to see independent guys enter. I would love to see Joey Davis from Notre Dame College come in and put it on the line. That would be awesome. That's what Midlands is all about.
The Division I Wrestling Committee released a recommended proposal that the championships include a team component and an individual component. Where do you and your coaching staff stand on that proposal?
Pariano: People are glued to the team race at the NCAAs. If you give the top teams 50 points, 42 points, 35, whatever the break down was, I think that takes away some of the unsung heroes ... programs like Clarion, Binghamton, and Appalachian State that want to break into the top 20. I just don't see how that works. I know people say change is necessary, well, I do believe that. But let's go back to the model where we were having some success with National Duals. It was a big event at Northern Iowa. Most of the top teams were going, and then you include the other divisions. And then what I think you could do is with the Virginia Duals invite teams 17 through 32, and then that event becomes viable. I don't want to call it like the NIT, but it would still be a great national event.
What's your opinion of the mat-side review and challenge system in place in college wrestling? Very few calls were overturned by challenges at the NCAAs.
Pariano: Refs don't want to overturn themselves. It's like a professor admitting they're wrong after giving an exam. Who wants to overrule themselves? If that's truly going to work they need an independent ref that's watching the match, or you just take the assistant official out of there and they watch the review and make an educated decision. It's all about the kids. We want the calls right. I'm not against video review in any way, shape, or form, I just feel like we have to find a better way to do it. If you're the ref making that call and you get overturned six times in the tournament, that's going to get back to Pat McCormick and you might not be reffing the NCAA tournament the next year.
Mike Mullan earned his third straight All-American honor (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Obviously, next season you return all five of your NCAA qualifiers, including three All-Americans. What's the team goal?
Pariano: The team goal is to challenge for a trophy. Once you set that goal I think you even set the goal higher once you get to the tournament. This year we were in like 20th place, then 17th place, then 11th place ... We didn't get into the top 10 until after Jason won in the NCAA finals. I think that shows great resiliency on our team's part. But at the same time, after the first round next year we want to be in the top four. We want to be in a place where we can do a lot of damage. We need to qualify eight or nine guys next year.
Thanks for making time to do the interview, Drew. Is there anything else you want to add?
Pariano: We're very excited about the future. Alex Tsirtsis does a great job with our club. The Chicago Regional Training Center is going to be growing. Jason Welch is still training with us. My assistant coach Conor Beebe is as well. We're hoping to get more guys to move to Chicago. I think a lot of the major programs need that. We have Aaron Anspach training at the Chicago Regional Training Center. He's not necessarily competing, but he's a great resource and role model for Mike McMullan. I think that's an aspect of our program that's really going to grow. We want World teams to conduct their camps at Northwestern. We don't start school until late September, so in August that room is completely open for our guys to work out, and then also have Cadet, Junior, and senior level World teams come on in and do their thing in Chicago.