Wrestling looks to fill gaps left by graduates

By Mike Romor

The new era NIU wrestling started last season continues to look promising.

Now that Ryan Ludwig has a full season under his belt as head coach of the program, the Huskies are adjusting to life without leaders Brad Dieckhaus and Mike Lukowski.

The Huskies are looking for freshmen to step up and fill voids left by Dieckhaus and Lukowski at 184 and 197, respectively.

True freshmen Bryan Loughlin and Shawn Scott have, for the time being, taken the vacant spots left by the two graduates.

Loughlin and Scott are two of five true freshmen that won Friday night.

“We’ll know more about who’s going to be starting in our duals when we check things out at the Eastern Michigan Open this weekend,” Ludwig said.

A massive change from last season to now is the shuffling in the lineup from its returning grapplers.

Redshirt junior Matt Mougin moved from 165 to 174, where he defeated junior Caleb Busson, 3-2, to grab the position headed into next weekend.

The biggest change in the lineup is junior Rob Jillard, who is now wrestling at 149 instead of 133.

Ludwig believes the change can only help Jillard in his journey back to the NCAA Championships, which he qualified for two seasons ago at 133 while wrestling for Liberty.

“Rob’s a very good wrestler and I think we confined him last year by keeping him at 133,” Ludwig said. “It was counterproductive. At 149, we’re hoping he can push the pace a little more and have that endurance that he needs to do the things he’s capable of this year.”

Two of the lineup’s most consistent wrestlers, redshirt junior NCAA qualifier Kevin Fanta, 141, and junior Nick Smith, now at 133, did not suit up.

Ludwig wants the juniors to remain rested while they recover from lingering injuries that will likely keep them out for the opening couple weeks of the season.

“I’m making sure those guys are healthy enough to compete,” Ludwig said. “We’ll make sure that they’re 100 percent before they see the mats. We’re not going to rush those guys back. They’re very important to us and we want to make sure that they’re ‘all systems go’ before they see action.”