Wrestling to take to the mats for season opener

By Mike Romor

After last weekend’s season-opening wrestle-offs, NIU wrestling will face opponents from outside the team for the first time this season at the Eastern Michigan Open.

The open will feature 450 wrestlers from some of the top programs across the nation.

Ryan Ludwig, entering his second season as head coach, hopes to see his grapplers, including 23 underclassmen, get valuable experience against some of the best wrestlers in the country.

“This is a huge test [for the freshmen],” Ludwig said. “This is their first actual match going out there. We compete against each other day in, day out but you never quite know what you need to work on until you go out and lay it on the line against guys from the rest of the country.”

The abundance of underclassmen is led by a solid core of returning starters. With upperclassmen Nick Smith, Kevin Fanta, Rob Jillard, Matt Mougin and Jared Torrence returning in the lineup, the team has a strong mix of youth and experience.

Three of the returning upperclassmen moved up in weight classes. Smith and Mougin bumped up a class to 133 and 174, respectively, while Jillard leapt from 133, to 149.

“The goal of that is for us to feel better where we’re competing at,” Ludwig said. “You can get wrapped up in a cycle of cutting weight too much and that’s the only thing you’re thinking about, just cutting the next pound off and not worrying about getting better as a wrestler.

“We think moving these guys will make them more complete wrestlers and get them to wrestle hard for seven minutes.”

The transition was especially necessary for Jillard, who will now see more competition that will match his height and reach.

“From just lifting weights this summer I got bigger,” Jillard said. “Talking with coach, I wanted to go up and he said it was a good idea. I feel just as confident as last year but this year I feel better and I am working harder without having to cut [weight] as much.”

Although his lineup has changed quite a bit over the offseason, the focus has remained the same for Ludwig.

“I want MAC Champions and I want NCAA All-Americans,” Ludwig said. “That’s never going to change. As we progress, I want to break through one at a time and the further we go down the road, I want to stack more and more on top of that.”

Torrence is one of the rare returning starters that did not change weight classes.

Sitting comfortably under his weight restriction of 285 lbs., Torrence worked hard throughout the offseason to improve on his impressive 14-win campaign. Torrence focused primarily on finishing shots and his top-work.

Torrence is ready to show his practice has paid off Saturday when he hits the mats.

“I am crazy excited about this weekend,” Torrence said. “It came up fast but I love it because it feels like I haven’t been on the mat forever. Competition-wise, I’m really excited.”