Wrestling overpowers Kent State with major-decision wins

Nationally-ranked Olejnik remains unbeaten


Courtesy Kent State Athletics

NIU redshirt junior Jaivon Jones wraps up Kent State University redshirt junior Louis Newell during the 141 match Sunday. Jones defeated Newell in a 3-1 decision to give NIU its first points of the dual. (David Dermer)

Bonus points were the deciding factor in NIU wrestling’s 18-15 win over Kent State University Sunday, spoiling the Golden Flashes’ home opener and preserving NIU’s undefeated record in Mid-American Conference play.

The three bonus points awarded to NIU for its trio of major decision wins decided Sunday’s contest after both teams won five matches. Redshirt seniors Anthony Gibson (157), Izzak Olejnik (165) and redshirt freshman Hayden Pummel (174) each won their duels by eight or more points to add an additional point towards NIU’s team score.

“That’s huge when you get on a roll and you can keep it going like that, especially bonus points,” NIU wrestling head coach Ryan Ludwig said. “We talk about this all the time that every point matters and never so much more so than in a dual meet setting.”

NIU opened the day with back-to-back losses after redshirt freshman Blake West — ranked No. 30 in the 125 class — and junior Lucian Brink lost each of their matches by decision. Redshirt junior Jaivon Jones put NIU on the board with a 3-1 victory against KSU redshirt junior Louis Newell.

Kent State restored its six-point advantage in a high-scoring battle between KSU graduate student Kody Komara and NIU redshirt junior Dillon Nichols.

Huskies make a run

Down 9-3 after the first four matches, the Huskies rallied with a string of four consecutive wins – three coming by major decisions – to take an 18-9 lead.

Gibson kicked off the Huskies’ streak with a shutout of sophomore Aaron Ferguson at 157. Gibson said he tried to keep the team’s predicament out of his mind during preparation for his match.

“I just went out there and wrestled,” Gibson said. “I wasn’t really concerned about the team’s score or anything else. I trusted my training and I knew I could go out there and get bonus points so I went out there and that’s what I did.”

The feature match of the day took place at 165 as two top-25, nationally ranked wrestlers went toe-to-toe. Redshirt senior Izzak Olejnik (No. 10) faced off against sophomore Enrique Munguia (No. 25) with Olejink coming out on top in a 9-1 decision to put NIU ahead 11-9.

“That was the premier matchup, no doubt,” Ludwig said. “That was just a nice statement win and kind of proves why he’s our team leader. It’s always good to see him get rewarded because he does the right things all the time.”

NIU redshirt senior Izzak Olejnik grapples with Kent State University sophomore Enrique Munguia during Sunday’s dual meet. Olejnik prevailed 9-1 in the battle of nationally-ranked opponents. Olejnik and Munguia were ranked No. 10 and No. 25 respectively in the Dec. 13 InterMat rankings for their weight class. (David Dermer)

Olejnik said he wasn’t phased by his opponent’s ranking, adding that he started off slow before picking up momentum in the third period.

“I always try to treat every match the same, no matter who I’m wrestling or what number they have by their name,” Olejnik said.

Pummel cleaned up NIU’s slate of major decision victories, besting Kent State sophomore Michael Ferre 16-5. The former took a dominating 12-1 lead through the first period before Ferre matched Pummel with four points throughout the final two periods.

The Huskies doubled KSU’s score in the 184 match after junior Matthew Zuber defeated redshirt senior Tyler Bates in a 2-0 decision.

Kent State comeback falls short

Kent State freshman Blake Schaffer ended Kent State’s win drought after extracting a 3-1 decision win over NIU sophomore Jacob Christensen at 197. A sweep by Schaffer against Christensen in the first period proved to be the deciding factor. The match also served as Christensen’s season debut for the Huskies.

The final matchup of the day went to the Golden Flashes as redshirt senior Jacob Cover triumphed over NIU redshirt senior Terrese Aaron in overtime. Both wrestlers were tied 2-2 after three periods to force sudden victory. Cover overpowered Aaron to finish the match with a 4-2 win.

Cover’s finish in the dual finale wasn’t enough to draw even with NIU as the Golden Flashes needed a pin or fall to tie. The Huskies departed the Kent State Field House with the 18-15 edge.

Preparing for the Midlands

With their second conference victory in hand, Ludwig’s squad will have 10 days off before returning to the mat on Dec. 29 for the Kent Kraft Midlands Championships hosted by Northwestern University.

“It doesn’t get much more premier during the season than the Midlands Championship,” Ludwig said. “A lot of tradition. A lot of tough, tough competition.”

NIU was unable to compete in last year’s Midlands Championship after the event was canceled out of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event, which will span two days, will be held at NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.