Ludwig sees bright future for men’s wrestling

By Mike Romor

Finishing the regular season 8-9 was not the vision Ryan Ludwig had in his first year, but there was plenty to be proud about in regards to the squad’s future.

“We had some ups and downs as a team, which is pretty much the status quo when you’re going up against the top teams in the country,” Ludwig said. “I think as our young guys age and get a little bit more strength and moxie … I think we’ve got a great future ahead of us.”

Although the team is losing two of its best competitors in seniors Brad Dieckhaus and Mike Lukowski, the young talent has the potential to do damage in the MAC over the next few years.

Redshirt sophomore Kevin Fanta qualified for his first NCAA Tournament at 141 after finishing second in the MAC Championships, while sophomore Nick Smith fought through nagging injuries all season at 125. Smith finished the regular season 13-4. While healthy, Smith amassed a seven-match winning streak from Nov. 12 to Dec. 1.

“Nick is always leaving it all out on the mat,” Ludwig said. “I’m always proud of his performance. He wrestles as hard as anybody in the conference … We’re looking forward to getting him into the National Tournament next year.”

Dieckhaus and Lukowski will no longer wrestle for NIU, but their impact as leaders were major factors in the team’s success.

“I’m extremely pleased with the efforts of Brad Dieckhaus in his whole career,” Ludwig said. “We think we might be able to keep him around in a coaching capacity as he finishes up his Master’s program. Mike Lukowski has been an absolute brawler at 197, and we will miss a guy like that a lot.”

The biggest breakthrough for the Huskies came at 285, where sophomore Jared Torrence finished with the most regular season wins on the team. His 14-win campaign was marked by improved attacking and relentless pursuit of his opponents.

Ludwig recruited a promising heavyweight, Tanner Lowe, who will join the Huskies next season. Ludwig said the addition will push Torrence to evolve with some tough competition during practices.

“As we always say in the wrestling room, ‘Iron sharpens Iron,’ so if you have tough practice partners, you’re going to be tough too,” Ludwig said.