WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Coming off a big conference dual victory over No. 20 Wisconsin on Monday and climbing to its highest national ranking in two seasons, the 18th-ranked Purdue wrestling team has a pair of key Big Ten duals this weekend, hitting the road to battle Northwestern Friday night and hosting 17th-ranked Michigan in Holloway Gymnasium on Sunday. The Boilermakers improved to 11-5 overall and 2-3 in conference action with Monday's win, and could lock up their best conference dual record since 2004 with a pair of wins.
Boilermaker head coach Scott Hinkel is just one victory shy of matching his season-high for dual victories as Purdue won 12 duals in his second year at the helm (2008-09) en route to a 23rd-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Hinkel believes a strong finish in Big Ten duals is the spark his team needs to make a run at the NWCA National Duals, the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships.
"Monday was the first step to getting our momentum in the right direction," said Hinkel. "Winning inspires more winning, and that's what we want to do. We have a couple of great challenges in Northwestern and Michigan this weekend, we just have to set our minds and take them on one at a time."
The Boilermakers took six matches from the Badgers on Monday, highlighted by sophomore Brandon Nelsen's fall at 141 pounds and sophomore Patrick Kissel's major decision at 184 pounds. In addition, fellow sophomore 165-pounder Pat Robinson picked up his team-best 20th win of the season and senior Ivan Lopouchanski improved to a perfect 19-0 at 149 pounds. Kissel, Lopouchanski and junior Camden Eppert are all just one win shy of joining Robinson in the 20-win club this year as the Boilermakers look to surpass their 2010 total of seven individuals with 20+ victories, all of which qualified for the NCAA Championships.
Purdue will receive an addition boost this weekend as 2010 All-American and 2012 NCAA qualifier Cashé Quiroga rejoins the Boilermaker lineup at 133 pounds after missing the last four duals. Hampered by various injuries this season, Quiroga is just 4-1, but is finally healthy and has his sights set on a strong finish to 2013.
"Cashé's year definitely hasn't gone as we'd hoped so far," said Hinkel. "No one plans on getting hurt, but he's worked hard to recover and he's ready to come back and get it going. He has a lot left to accomplish this season and that starts on Friday."
Quiroga and the Boilermakers open the weekend Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Northwestern, looking to win consecutive Big Ten duals since defeating Michigan State and Indiana in 2011. The Wildcats were bumped from the national rankings this week, dropping from No. 23, but maintained 52 votes from the coaches and still have a potent arsenal of wrestlers at their disposal. Second-ranked 157-pound senior Jason Welch highlights the 6-6 Wildcats (1-5 Big Ten), sporting an outstanding 22-1 record this season after earning All-America honors each of the past two years. Sophomores Lee Munster and Mike McMullan enter the weekend ranked ninth in the country at 174 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, while classmate Pierce Harger is a consensus top-20 wrestler at 165 pounds as well. Freshman Dominick Malone and sophomore Alex Polizzi round out the list of top Wildcat individuals as they have both been in-and-out of the national rankings at 125 pounds and 197 pounds.
Purdue has lost its last two meetings with Northwestern and five of the last six contests, but still holds a slight 42-41-2 all-time edge in the series. The Boilermakers' last win over the Wildcats was a 33-7 rout in Evanston in Nov. 2009.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines travel south to Bloomington to battle Indiana on Friday night before coming to West Lafayette on Sunday, heading into the weekend at 7-4 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten duals. Michigan earned its first conference win of the season last Sunday, topping Northwestern 23-13 in Ann Arbor, and has five individuals ranked in the latest set of polls. Freshman Taylor Massa headlines the list of Wolverine standouts, holding the No. 9 mark at 165 pounds, followed closely by junior captain teammate Dan Yates, who sits 10th in the country at 174 pounds. Juniors Sean Boyle and Eric Grajales hold top-15 spots at 125 and 149 pounds, while senior Ben Apland is the nation's No. 19 heavyweight.
Michigan leads the all-time series with the Boilermakers, 52-14-1, including the last nine consecutive meetings and 12 of the last 13. Purdue's last win this series was an 18-16 victory in Ann Arbor in 1998, and the Boilermakers haven't beat the Wolverines at home since a 19-17 victory in 1991.
Sunday's home dual with the Wolverines features several outstanding promotions, including $1 admission for Purdue faculty and staff who bring their Purdue identification to the dual. In addition, there will be an intermission performance by the Purdue Goldusters as well as recognitions for the Junior Boiler of the Dual and a Boilermaker honorary captain.