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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

NIU wrestling: New faces, returning stars

Tim Dodge
Redshirt freshman Danny Curran (right) grapples with redshirt freshman Dylan Gvillo (left) during the Huskie Duals exhibition last Friday. The Huskies’ first dual takes place Friday against Lindenwood and St. Ambrose. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Roll out the mats, break out the headgear and prepare the ringworm ointment, as the NIU wrestling season is rapidly approaching.


Last season, NIU wrestling finished with an 8-5 overall record and went  5-1 in the MAC. The Huskies secured first place in the MAC West by outpacing Central Michigan University with a two-win advantage.

The Huskies finished eighth out of 13 teams at the MAC Championship, with three former Huskies claiming podium finishes. 

No.12 ranked All-American 165-pound grappler Izzak Olejnik, who transferred to Oklahoma State University, was the only Huskie to participate in the 2022 NCAA Championships. Olejnik finished eighth in the 165 weight class after going 4-3

Olejnik became the second All-American under NIU wrestling head coach Ryan Ludwig after qualifying in 2020, 2021 and 2022.


Ludwig recruited 11 new wrestlers, consisting of eight freshmen and three transfer students. 

Freshman 149-pounder and four-time state champion Collin Arch stood out among the newcomers, as highlighted by Ludwig.

“Two guys to mention – I mean the whole group is impressive – but four-time state champion Collin Arch is going to be highly competitive at 149 (pounds),” Ludwig said via Episode eight of the NIU Weekly Podcast. “So we’re excited to see what he does this week in terms of competition.” 

In anticipation of the intricacies of collegiate wrestling, Arch dedicated the offseason to perfecting his craft.

“It’s really everything,” Arch said. “So, college is a lot different, just all around. So you really got to get better at probably every position and just keep tweaking little things.”

Freshman 165-pounder and two-time state champ Brett Smith was listed as another notable recruit. 

“And then Brett Smith I mentioned from Missouri,” Ludwig said. “He was a couple of times state champ. He won those state titles around 170 (pounds), now he’s gonna be 157. So it’s gonna be a better weight class for himself, but he’s very athletic guy as well.”


With the induction of eight freshmen and the departure of several starters, Ludwig shined the spotlight on several vital returnees who have risen to the occasion. 

Redshirt sophomore Blake West is set to don the red and black singlet for his third season as a Huskie.

Last season, West finished 24-9 overall with a 5-1 record in the MAC at 125. West was one of three Huskies to sit atop the podium at the MAC Championship, securing a third-place finish.

“Another guy that really stepped up again is Blake West,” Ludwig said. “The leadership with the guys, the way he handles his business – he’s a pre-med major – everything that he does funnels towards a champion lifestyle.”

After being eliminated from NCAA Championship eligibility a season ago, West has his eyes set on the national title. 

“I always want to be a national champ, MAC champ,” West said. “I want to win every match. I’m a competitor. So I go out there, and I’m not expecting to lose but losses happen. But I’m going out there, and I’m shooting for the national title.”

Redshirt senior Jaivon Jones returns for his fifth season on the mat after finishing with a 19-10 record and placing third at the MAC championship. Jones will return to 149 after moving down to 141 a season ago, according to Ludwig. 

Redshirt sophomore Jacobi Jackson was another name mentioned by Ludwig. Last year, Jackson was 3-0 in the 285 class before sustaining a season-ending injury. 

Following the graduation of last year’s 285 starter Terrese Aaron, Jackson is seen by Ludwig as the heavyweight frontrunner. 

“I’d say he’s probably at the forefront right now. Not that he won’t be challenged, but he’s a two-time champ from Missouri and had a really impressive resume coming in,” Ludwig said. “His first two years with us, he was battling injuries, so now he’s fully healthy and working his butt off in the room. We expect big things from him.” 


Three newcomers secured their places in the starting lineup as Team Red cruised to a 26-13 victory over Team Black on Friday during the Red-Black Dual at Victor E. Court. 

Redshirt junior and transfer student Jake Stiles earned a starting role at 165 with a 7-3 decision over junior Jake Evans. Stile’s victory extended the Red Team’s lead to 6-0 in the early going. 

Redshirt freshman and DeKalb product Tommy Curran went toe-to-toe against fellow newcomer Arch in the longest bout of the night at 149. After scoring an escape during the first-tie-breaking period, Curran held off Arch to get Team Black on the board. 

Smith recorded the largest winning margin for either team with an 18-2 technical fall over freshman Gavynn Carpenter at 157. Smith’s victory extended Team Red’s lead to 17-3.

With the conclusion of preliminary and qualifying wrestle-offs on Friday, NIU has crowned its starters in all 10 weight classes. 


The Huskies will host the first dual of the season against Lindenwood University and St. Ambrose University at 3 p.m. Friday at Victor E. Court. 

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