Jillard, Smith off to wrestling championships

By Zack Thompson

Wrestling has two seniors headed to Oklahoma City, Okla., for the NCAA National Tournament this weekend.

The Huskies finished eighth in the MAC Tournament last week, and seniors Nick Smith and Rob Jillard were able to advance to nationals as individuals.

This will be Smith’s first time at nationals, and Jillard’s first time as a Huskie. Jillard made it to nationals as a freshman at Liberty University.

“I’m really excited [for Nationals],” Smith said. “It’s my senior year, so I’m looking to finish on top. I’ve been working on a lot of technical stuff this week to try and hone out the small mistakes I’ve been making throughout the season, and I feel I’ve fixed those mistakes and I’m ready and prepared heading in.”

As for Jillard, he feels being able to draw on the experience of competing at the NCAA National Tournament as a freshman at Liberty will help him heading into the weekend.

“Having the experience will just help me with not being star struck and getting caught up in the moment and being able to go out there and just wrestle,” Jillard said.

Smith and Jillard face tough draws in their first-round matches, as they’ll face ranked wrestlers. Smith (133) will face No. 8 David Thorn of Minnesota, while Jillard (149) will match up against No. 7 Gus Sako of Virginia.

Smith’s opponent, Thorn, was an All-American last season and is a three-time NCAA qualifier. Thorn is 24-6 this season and placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships.

Jillard’s first round opponent, Sako, is 18-3 on the season and finished third at the ACC Championships.

Head coach Ryan Ludwig said he’s looking for Smith and Jillard to come out strong and perform well despite the tough matchups.

“We’re looking to have a great performance,” Ludwig said. “As long as you go in there and get after it right away I think good things will happen. There’s nothing to hold back at this point. We know our matchups and strategies; now it’s all about putting your full effort forth and letting the chips fall where they may.”

Ludwig said Jillard and Smith are ready to go for their matchups.

“Last week we healed up a little bit, but we didn’t rest too much,” Ludwig said. “We got after it we kept wrestling, kept drilling, and this weekend we took a little time to rehab our bodies. From here on out it’s individual drilling with these guys keeping them sharp and healthy and setting them free on Thursday.”