Ludwig expects ‘highly competitive’ matches at wrestle-offs

By Mike Romor

With practices well underway, NIU wrestling still has a lot to determine with its starting lineup.

Head coach Ryan Ludwig has a general idea of who the key figures are this season, but he expects a slew of highly competitive matches Saturday at Victor E. Court.

On top of filling voids at 141 and 157 pounds because of the departures of Tristen DeShazer and three-time NCAA qualifier Bryan Deutsch, Ludwig thinks some of last year’s returning starters will have to fight for their positions this weekend.

“I think the wrestle-off can determine more than just [the 141 and 157 pound classes],” Ludwig said. “125 is going to be a relatively hotly contested bout. Nick Smith was a 22-match winner last year, but Nick Harrison is hungry and is a very talented wrestler.”

Harrison, a true freshman from Stillman Valley, was ranked 23rd last season at 119 pounds and went 176-13 throughout his four-year all-state high school career.

Ludwig also is keeping his eye on the 133 pound matchup between transfer Rob Jillard and Jason Montemayor.

Jillard was an NCAA qualifier last year for Liberty University. Jillard was heavily recruited by Ludwig prior to joining Liberty’s squad. When Liberty turned its program into a club sport following last season, Jillard was given the chance to come to NIU.

“At 133, Jillard will be challenged by Jason Montemayor,” Ludwig said. “Jason’s got some pretty big moves, so that will be an interesting matchup.”

Last year’s main piece at 131 was Kevin Fanta. Fanta is not out of the picture, however.

Fanta has gone up to 141 in hopes of taking over the empty slot. Fanta will have his work cut out for him, as redshirt freshman Shawn Fayette looks to overtake a starting spot in the lineup.

The only class Ludwig confirmed as a lock was 165. Matt Mougin finished last season 9-17 at 165 and has already edged out Dan Burk for the starting spot.

With Brad Dieckhaus + at 184 after last season’s MAC Championship and NCAA birth, his position seems safe from his fellow teammates. Mike Lukowski is in the same position as Dieckhaus, as the 197 pound class is his to lose.

There will be an unfamiliar matchup for Huskie fans at 149 pounds, with redshirt freshman Matt Smith going up against Byron native Steven Bradley. Both Bradley, a true freshman, and Smith have impressed Ludwig in practices so far.

“They’re both very good mat wrestlers,” Ludwig said. “Depending on who gets on top and gets in a dominant position, things could be very interesting.”

Caleb Busson is returning for NIU at 174 pounds, where he went 5-12 as a true freshman last season. Busson’s only competition on the roster is freshman Jackson Bratcher, who posted a 150-8 record in high school.

The heavyweight class will be an interesting matchup for the Huskies. Jared Torrence showed flashes of dominance last season at 285, finishing with a 6-4 record while backing up now-departed Dakota Greenhaw. Torrence will face redshirt freshman Parker Settecase, who went 3-6 last season.

Throughout the lineup, NIU’s young talent seems to be ready to show why it was ranked the 28th best recruiting class entering this season by Wrestling USA.