Three Huskie wrestlers set to compete in NCAA Championships

NIU’s three Mid-American Conference champions will head to the Motor City for Thursday’s opening rounds.

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Jarrett Huff

Then-redshirt sophomore Brit Wilson being announced the 2020 MAC 184-pound Champion March 8, 2020 after his win in the 2020 MAC Championship finals at the NIU Convocation Center.

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

DeKALB — Three members of the NIU wrestling team are NCAA Championships-bound after winning their respective weight classes at the Mid-American Conference Championships on March 4-5.

Redshirt seniors Brit Wilson, Mason Kauffman and redshirt junior Izzak Olejnik each finished in first place in their respective brackets and are poised to begin national competition in Detroit Thursday.

Olejnik and Kauffman secure first conference titles

Olejnik’s journey to the 165-pound championship began with a bye before taking on George Mason University sophomore Tyler Kocak, defeating him 4-0. Olejnik then advanced to challenge Central Michigan University redshirt junior Tracy Hubbard, earning another victory 9-4. 

The Bakersfield, California, native finished out his winning bout with a last-minute triumph over Lock Haven University junior Ashton Eyler 7-5. Olejnik held an early 5-2 in the match before Eyler escaped and notched a takedown to bring about the extra time period. Olejnik’s takedown earned him his first conference title and third NCAA Championship qualification.

At 174 pounds, Olejnik’s teammate Kauffman pressed into action from the start of the tournament. Kauffman eliminated Edinboro University freshman Joseph Arnold and Kent State University freshman Michael Ferree in his first two matchups. The Huskie veteran picked up an additional victory over University at Buffalo redshirt freshman Jay Nivison to advance into the championship round.

Kauffman’s final opponent of the tourney was a familiar one in Ohio University freshman Sal Perrine. In their last matchup during the regular season on Jan. 15, Kauffman defeated Perrine 3-2. Kauffman repeated history with another victory over Perrine, breaking away from a 2-2 tie in the second period and finishing with a 7-5 victory for his first MAC title.

Wilson earns the three-peat

Wilson’s road to the championship began like Kauffman’s, having to compete from the first until the final round. Wilson began the 184-pound championship bracket with a dominant 12-2 win over Rider University junior Evan Vazquez. The reigning conference champion followed up his opening performance by defeating Buffalo redshirt junior Peter Acciardi 9-1.

The third round matchup between Wilson and George Mason redshirt junior Kyle Davis saw Wilson earn yet another victory as he entered the championship round to face off against Kent State senior Colin McCracken. The final showdown at 184 proved to be successful for Wilson, winning by major decision 8-0 to secure the third and final MAC title of his college career.

“They’ve been the leaders of the way we want to compete, in the way we do things every day, and their leadership has been unbelievably appreciated,” head wrestling coach Ryan Ludwig said in an NIU Athletics news release following the MAC Championships on March 5. “It just makes it that much more rewarding to see them get what they deserve. They had to work hard for it and to see them win in a row like that was extremely special.”

Looking ahead to the NCAA Championships

With the MAC Championships now behind them, the trio of Huskie qualifiers will prepare for their bouts in the NCAA Championships set to begin Thursday.

Olejnik, the No. 11 seed in the 165-pound bracket and the highest among all Huskie competitors, is set to begin competition Thursday morning against the #22-seeded Gardner-Webb University redshirt junior Rodrick “RJ” Mosley. Olejnick heads into the matchup with a 25-4 record compared to Mosley’s overall record of 18-6.

In his second berth at nationals, 22nd-seeded Kauffman prepares to do battle with University of Missouri redshirt sophomore Peyton Mocco in the first round of the 174-pound bracket. Kauffman holds a 21-9 record going into Thursday’s contest.

Wilson enters Thursday’s opening day of the event as 12th-seeded wrestler at 184 pounds. The Mexico, Missouri, product is scheduled to compete against the #21 seed University of Wyoming senior Tate Samuelson. 

“It’s great to have three guys who have been our steadfast leaders throughout the year heading to NCAAs,” Ludwig said in an NIU Athletics news release on March 9. “They’re feeling good and wrestling at their best heading to the national tournament. We’re excited for that first round and hopefully we get off to a great start on Thursday.”

The NCAA Championships will last Thursday through Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The event will be available to watch on all ESPN platforms.