Smith, Jillard fall at championships

By Zack Thompson

Wrestling’s season came to an end this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Seniors Nick Smith and Rob Jillard finished their careers on a strong note as they were able to advance to the NCAA Championships.

Smith (133) started with a first round loss, 6-3 by decision, to No. 8 David Thorn of Minnesota. He came back later in the day with a second period pin over Maryland’s Tyler Goodwin to advance to day two of the tournament.

Jillard (149) also started with a first-round loss. His loss came 7-4 by decision to No. 7 Gus Sako of Virginia. Jillard also bounced back with a win, a 9-2 victory over Rutgers’ Ken Theobold.

The Huskies’ run ended on day two of the tournament, as Smith and Jillard dropped their consolation matches. Smith fell 10-7 against No. 10 Nick Soto of Chattanooga, while Jillard lost 13-3 by major decision against No. 8 Dave Habat of Edinboro.

Head coach Ryan Ludwig said Smith and Jillard showed a lot of tenacity in their matches, particularly Smith in his second match.

“They both had really hard-fought battles in the first round,” Ludwig said. “Nick Smith battled really well in his first round match, and to lose that match and to be able to rally and come back extremely focused and win that second bout showed a lot of guts and character.”

In his consolation match on day two, Smith fell just short against Soto.

“Nick had a really tight bout that could’ve gone either way against Soto from Chattanooga, and unfortunately he didn’t come out on top in that one,” Ludwig said. “Nick wrestled really well this weekend, and I was proud of his performance and his effort.”

Smith and Jillard had their fair share of injuries this season, and Ludwig was happy to see their perseverance pay off at the NCAA Championships.

“They both battled injuries a little bit; [Jillard] at the beginning of the year and [Smith] throughout the year,” Ludwig said. “They did a great job healing up and being consistent and reliable guys in the lineup all year. Having those guys to lean on is really important as a coach.”

Smith and Jillard finish their careers on high notes as making it to the NCAA Championship is an impressive feat for wrestlers from an NIU team that struggled much of the year. Ludwig said having Smith and Jillard all season was important for the Huskies and their leadership was key.

“They brought it to practice every single day and brought the correct attitude and senior leadership every day,” Ludwig said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with being able to coach those guys and send them out on a positive note in their careers, and I’m very proud of the things they’ve done for the program while they were here.”