Huskies prepare to host 2020 MAC wrestling Championships on home court

Redshirt+sophomore+Brit+Wilson+grapples+Feb.+14+with+his+Bull+opponent+during+NIU%27s+19-16+win+at+Victor+E.+Court.

Jackson Gillette | Northern Star

Redshirt sophomore Brit Wilson grapples Feb. 14 with his Bull opponent during NIU's 19-16 win at Victor E. Court.

James Krause, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — After one of its strongest regular seasons in program history, the wrestling team will start its postseason Saturday with the start of the Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships at the Convocation Center.

Head Coach Ryan Ludwig said being the host of the tournament will give NIU advantages in many different ways. NIU will be the host team for the tournament for the first time since 2011.

“It’s always comfortable to be at home,” Ludwig said. “Having our own facilities in which to prepare is great. Everyone’s weight cut is a lot smoother when they’re in their own facilities. All those things really help our guys, but really it’s just the mindset of knowing we’re at home and we have all our friends, fans [and] families coming out to see us.”

Ludwig said the tournament carries an element of the unknown this year with it being the conference’s first since adding seven programs this last March.

“This tournament is extremely interesting,” Ludwig said. “To single out any of our guys or any other guys around the country is really hard to do. I think it’s going to be a highly competitive tournament with twists and turns all throughout. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it all plays out.”

The Huskies finished their regular season Feb. 21 with a win over Drexel University to wrap up the season with a 13-4 record.

The win total matches the program’s most since the 2004-05 season.

With two weeks to prepare, Ludwig said a focus was getting guys healthy for a two-day double-elimination tournament.

“The big thing for us coming off a dual season where nearly all of our guys competed weekly was just getting healed up,” Ludwig said.

One of those who benefits most from the time off is redshirt first-year 141 pounder Anthony Gibson, who has been competing with a knee injury he sustained Jan. 17 against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“It was huge,” Gibson said. “This extra week gave me a better chance to get to 100%, and I feel better than I ever did throughout the season.”

The wrestlers won’t know their opponents until Friday, when the conference announces the 16-man brackets for each weight class. The top eight seeded wrestlers in each division, as determined by MAC coaches, were announced Tuesday with the remaining eight being seeded by random drawing.

The top seeded Huskie is redshirt first-year Izzak Olejnik at 165 lbs., entering his first MAC tournament as a third seed. Olejnik said the pressure and format changes won’t change the team’s performance on the mat.

“We’re just going into it and wrestling like it’s any other tournament,” Olejnik said. “It’s the same thing. We’re just going out, scoring points and making it fun. We’re just excited. If you perform well at this tournament, you could qualify for the national tournament, and that’s where your dreams come true.”

Redshirt sophomore Brit Wilson is familiar with MAC tournament success, being runner-up at 174 lbs. in the 2018-19 season. Wilson said his experience will help him find further success as the fourth seed at 184 lbs.

“I got a lot of good experience last year,” Wilson said. “Already wrestling at the MAC tournament once, I kind of know what to expect. I know how tough it is, and that the competition is there. There’s a lot of motivation to come back and use what I’ve learned this year and all my training to show I’m trying to do better and come out of it a MAC champ.”

Along with Wilson, redshirt first-year Gage Braun will be a fourth seed at 197 lbs/.

Redshirt sophomore Bryce West will be a fifth seed at 125 lbs., while seniors McCoy Kent and Kenny Moore will both be sixth seeds at 149 and 174 lbs. respectively.

Redshirt junior Max Ihry at 197 lbs. will be the seventh seed at heavyweight. All other NIU wrestlers will have their seeding announced Friday following a random draw.

Opening round contests for the MAC tournament will begin 10 a.m. Saturday at the Convocation Center.

Championship quarterfinals and semifinals are also scheduled for Saturday along with the first two rounds of the consolation bracket. The championship finals will take place Sunday after the consolation quarterfinals and semifinals.