The NIU wrestlers recently hit the mats again in preparation for the upcoming season.
But this season the Huskies will not only be armed with strength but with head coach Ed Vatch’s confidence as well.
“We’re facing a really tough schedule this season,” said Vatch. “There are some teams we’ve faced before and some that are brand new. It should be an exciting year.”
One of the schools new to the NIU schedule is Notre Dame, a team that Vatch had been pursuing for years.
“I had always wanted Notre Dame on my schedule because they’re a great program. We accepted their offer to join them this season with the stipulation that they come here next year. They happily agreed.”
One major problem with the Huskies’ schedule this season is that they have only three home meets, two of which are in February. But Vatch hopes that the addition of a junior varsity schedule will help not only with scheduling, but also with playing time for underclassmen.
“Twenty-six guys came out this season,” explained Vatch. “We’re not cutting anyone so some guys are going to see limited or no time.”
One of the wrestlers who will see no time this season is letterman Jim Kossakowski.
After dominating opponents in the 167-pound class last season, Kossakowski decided to red-shirt and save his final year of eligibility for next season.
Kossakowski’s decision is one that Vatch welcomed.
“Jimmy’s a great wrestler,” said Vatch. “But he’s doing what’s best for him. Right now a guy named Courtney Pitter will move in to Jim’s spot and he’ll fill it well. Next season we’ll have Jim back on the team and he’ll be a year stronger.”
Another returning letterman who is expected to have a great season is T.C. Dantzler. But Dantzler, who is currently a tailback for the NIU football team, won’t be ready to compete until the Nov. 25 match at Southwest Missouri State.
“T.C. could wrestle on the (Nov.) 23rd at St. Louis,” said Vatch. “But that meet is a tournament and T.C. could very well end up wrestling five or six different guys. I wouldn’t want to risk getting him hurt for the rest of the season.”
Dantzler was the only Huskie to make it to the NCAA National competition last season in Iowa.
Sophomore Mel Heckman is another member of the squad that has impressed Vatch in the short time he’s been here. However, after winning his first 10 matches to start last season, Heckman’s record tapered off. The lag did not upset Vatch.
“Mel ended up wrestling some very good guys at the end of last season,” said Vatch. “But he knows the level he needs to wrestle at and a lot of wrestlers won’t be surprised by him this year.
“But when you get a guy who’s that big and that strong and just won’t give up, you’ve got a great wrestler on your hands.”