EVANSTON, Ill. -- There's no hard data to back up this theory, but maybe it's somehow advantageous to enter the Midlands Tournament ranked outside of the Top 20.
A year after then-No. 23 Missouri stunned the field and won the team title, No. 21 Northwestern placed four on the podium and used early-round bonus points to finish with 105.5 points and earn its highest finish in the 49 years of their prestigious annual holiday tournament.
Previously, the Wildcats had finished in third place five times, most recently in 2006, when Dustin Fox and Jake Herbert won Midlands titles.
Tournament champions at 157 pounds (Jason Welch) and 174 pounds (Lee Munster) led this year's charge to the podium. Youngsters Levi Mele (125) and Mike McMullan (heavyweight) advanced to the semis and finished in fourth place.
In a match that was low-scoring but still entertaining, No. 3 Welch bested No. 4 Ganbayar Sanjaa (American) in a rematch from the 2011 NWCA All-Star Classic that Welch won 8-5. This version saw Welch's funky style help him fend off Sanjaa's offense in the first and third periods. Sanjaa had more quality shots, but Welch was able to scramble out and avoid surrendering points. Then in the second, Welch rode tough and earned a point after Sanjaa was hit with two stall calls.
"We have a young team and guys are starting to win some key positions," Northwestern coach Drew Pariano said. "We're excited about this season."
At 174 pounds, Chicago-native and freshman Lee Munster displayed a couple powerful double-leg takedowns and some solid defense against Iowa's Ethan Lofthouse to become the lowest seed (No. 5) to win a Midlands title this season.
"I've been coming to watch the Midlands since I can remember, so tonight was a big night for me," Munster said. "[Still], I know I'm going to have to wrestle guys like Lofthouse and [Illinois' Jordan] Blanton in a couple weeks. After tonight, it's over and [onto] the rest of the season."
No. 7 Kendric Maple of Oklahoma was named "Champion of Champions" and Outstanding Wrestler after he knocked off top-ranked Montell Marion of Iowa at 141 pounds. The raw but talented sophomore executed a gorgeous toe drag near the edge of the mat to earn his only takedown, then rode Marion out and earned an escape in the second to take a 3-0 lead with ride time advantage into the third. In that period, however, it was obvious that Maple was gassed and it was all he could not to get docked multiple points for stalling.
No. 1 Iowa won the tournament handily with 152 points. As expected, Iowa's strong depth helped them place a tournament-high nine wrestlers on the podium. But the Hawks went 1-4 in championship matches and Brands said afterward he would have preferred to see them finish their matches better.
Finals Match Summaries
Numbers before wrestler's name indicate current InterMat national ranking
125: No. 2 Matt McDonough (Iowa) pinned Jarrod Garnett (UN - Va. Tech), 4:02
Like he does to many of his 125-pound opponents, McDonough simply overpowered Garnett. McDonough notched three first-period takedowns before locking up a power half and cranking Garnett over midway through the second period to earn the fall.
133: No. 4 Devin Carter (Va. Tech) dec. No. 2 Tony Ramos (Iowa), 6-4 SV1
After fending off several deep single-leg shots by Ramos in regulation and overtime, Carter used a slick left ankle pick to earn the takedown with 18 seconds left in sudden victory to earn his first Midlands title.
141: No. 7 Kendric Maple (Oklahoma) dec. No. 1 Montell Marion (Iowa), 5-3
The highest scorer in the tourney with 74 points, Maple got an early takedown with a nice toe drag near the edge of the mat, then did just enough in the third period to avoid excessive stall calls and hang on for the upset (see complete match recap above).
149: Jake Patascil (Notre Dame) maj. dec. No. 3 Mario Mason (Rutgers), 9-2
The former Purdue All-American and current Notre Dame College (Ohio) assistant coach used a pair of ball-and-chain tilts to rack up eight points worth of near falls in the second period and cost to a dominant victory. Five of Patacsil's six tournament wins were of the bonus point variety. He and 165-pound champion Steve Fittery (DCAC) tied for 20th place with 28.5 points each.
157: No. 3 Jason Welch (Northwestern) dec. No. 4 Ganbayar Sanjaa (American), 4-2
(See recap above)
165: Steve Fittery (DCAC) maj. dec. No. 13 Peter Yates (Va. Tech), 12-4
A four-time All-American who is used to having his hand raised in Evanston from his days at American, Fittery rolled to the 165-pound title via two falls and three major decisions. He proved too powerful for the lanky Yates, who made it interesting by scoring two first-period reversals before Fittery scored a 3-pt near fall in the second to clinch the match.
174: No. 13 Lee Munster (Northwestern) dec. No. 8 Ethan Lofthouse, 7-3
(See recap above)
184 No. 1 Robert Hamlin (Lehigh) dec. No. 7 Ben Bennett (Central Michigan), 5-2
The top-ranked Hamlin countered aggressive offense by Bennett in the first and third periods to score two takedowns and win a close match.
197: No. 3 Chris Honeycutt (Edinboro) dec. No. 9 Micah Burak (Penn), 4-0
A takedown in the first period was all the fomer184-pound All-American Scot needed to win his first Midlands crown.
285: Jarod Trice (UN) dec. No. 9 Bobby Telford (Iowa), 3-2 TB2
A locked hands call in the second rideout period cost Telford, the highly-regarded Hawkeye freshman, a monumental upset over the All-American Trice.