Wrestling team takes 13th as two wrestlers place at the Midlands Championships


By James Krause

DeKALB—The wrestling team came out of the 2019 Midlands Championships at Northwestern University with a 13th place team finish and a pair of wrestlers placing in a stacked two-day tournament.

NIU finished with 44 points in a field that featured wrestlers from dozens of programs, including 10 nationally ranked. NIU outranked several Mid-American Conference rivals, including the University of Ohio and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Redshirt first-year Gage Braun finished fifth in the 197-pound bracket while fellow redshirt first-year Izzak Olejnix placed eighth in the 165-pound bracket. Head Coach Ryan Ludwig said the team has a lot to build on moving forward with MAC competition heating up come January.

“The guys wrestled hard, and we had some nice individual performances,” Ludwig said in an NIU Athletics press release Monday. “We have a lot to build on and a lot to learn from. [Olejnix] and [Braun] competed with maturity to secure podium finishes.”

Braun won five contests in total over the course of the tournament, four by decision. Braun’s two losses came in major decisions at the hands of nationally ranked competitors University of Iowa redshirt sophomore Jacob Warner and Princeton University junior Patrick Brucki.

Braun’s final win of the event came in the scheduled fifth place match via medical forfeit over University of Minnesota redshirt senior Hunter Ritter, who Braun had previously beaten by decision in the tournament.

Olejnix’s tournament run at 165 started with a pinfall victory over Indiana University redshirt junior Davey Tunon at 4:41, but a decision loss eliminated him from the championship bracket by Virginia Tech redshirt senior David McFadden.

The 165-pounder would pick up three straight decision wins en route to an eighth place finish, only being bested by two top 20 wrestlers in the weight class, Harvard University redshirt first-year Phillip Conigliaro and University of North Carolina redshirt junior Kennedy Monday.

Other notable performances from the two-day event include redshirt first-year Bryce West picking up two pinfall victories in the 125-pound bracket, both coming in the first round. Redshirt senior McCoy Kent picked up five wins at 149 pounds, including a pinfall victory over redshirt senior Chris Meloni from MAC-rival University of Buffalo.

The tournament also gave opportunities for wrestlers who don’t get many starting roles the chance to compete. Redshirt senior Zackary Velasquez won two contests at 165 pounds, while first-year Dylan Thuston picked up a technical fall win at 157 pounds.

Redshirt first-year Niko Derain picked up valuable experience in his first match in several weeks, facing one of the top ranked 149-pounders in Iowa redshirt senior Patrico Lugo.

NIU will battle in nine duals before their next tournament, the MAC Championships in DeKalb in March. The first of those duals comes with the first match at 2 p.m. Sunday with NIU hosting Central Michigan.