Wrestlers heating up for season opener

By Eric Burt

NIU wrestling coach Ed Vatch has been “rubbing elbows” this week with the women’s volleyball team.

“They’ve been hot lately,” Vatch said. “I’m hoping some of it will wear off on us.”

The wrestlers travel to Stevens Point, Wis., for the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Tombstone Open, which begins at 4 p.m. today and will continue at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The Huskie squad enters this weekend’s season-opening tournament with five wrestlers ranked by Wrestling USA magazine. NIU’s only 1988 NCAA qualifier, Anton Kossakowski, is listed in the No. 15 spot at 177 pounds; Joe Madonia is No. 23 at 167 pounds; Tino Gonzalez ranks No. 29 at 126 pounds; Brett Messerli is listed No. 31 at 150 pounds; and Eric Wenckowski is No. 32 at heavyweight.

Wenckowski will miss the opening tournament, but he does have a valid excuse. He will be finishing the season as the center of the Huskie football team this weekend against Western Michigan.

“It’s great for their attitude,” Vatch said of the national recognition, “but they don’t give awards at the beginning of the season.

“Our guys are looking to get into action,” Vatch said. “They have been wrestling each other, and they’re anxious to get going. I’m excited, and the guys are excited.

“Anton has been scratching to get back on the mat since losing in the first round of nationals last year. Ray (Espinosa, 134 pounds) has been chomping to get in, too.”

There are 19 teams scheduled to compete in the tournament. Aside from the host, UW-Stevens Point, schools represented are Dubuque, DuPage, Hamlin, Luther, Madison Area Tech, Mankato, Marquette, North Central, NIU, Northern Michigan, UW-Eau Claire, UW-LaCrosse, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout, UW-Whitewater and Wheaton College.

“I’ve seen a change in (the wrestlers’) intensity,” Vatch said. “They’re getting ready. Once they believe they can’t be beat, they won’t. I expect to come out of there with some champions.

“What it comes down to is that it’s their game. Some people think that wrestling is a one-person sport. But when you’re out on the mat, you have an opponent there, too. You have to think of it as if your opponent stepped into ‘your area’. The biggest thing is pride.”