Huskie wrestlers preparing for shot at national tourney

By Fred Konrath

The moment has finally come for the individuals on NIU’s wrestling team.

That moment is The NCAA West Regional, which determines which wrestlers will travel to Oklahoma City, Okla., to compete with the best wrestlers in the nation at the National Tournament (March 19-21).

Competing at Cedar Falls, Iowa, Saturday will be nine teams from the West Regional. The champions of the 10 weight classes and the top 11 additional wrestlers, as picked by the regional coaches, earn berths to the NCAA Tournament.

NIU has sent at least one individual to the NCAA Tournament for the last 21 years, and head coach Ed Vatch would like nothing better then to keep the Huskie tradition alive.

“I’d certainly like to go to Oklahoma,” Vatch said, “and buy myself a cowboy hat and boots.”

All kidding aside, Vatch will be looking for no-nonsense 158-pounder T.C. Dantzler to lead NIU. Dantzler is looking for his third straight trip to nationals. “I can’t wait,” Dantzler said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for all year.”

However, Dantzler will have to get past a stubborn foe from Northern Iowa who T.C. defeated in the finals of last year’s regional, but who he lost to earlier in the season in a close match.

“I’m not too worried about him,” said Dantzler. “I went in there with the wrong strategy. The only one who beat me is myself. In wrestling, it’s all mental. You have to be tough and ready to fight. I’ll be ready.”

Among the other Huskies who have the best shot at making it to nationals are Bill Walsh, Courtney Pitter and Shannon Gregory.

“Everyone has a shot at this point,” Vatch said. “Because if you look at it, all the records up to this point don’t make a difference. It’s who wrestles the best on that day.”

The Huskies (2-17), who have wrestled tough opponents all year, are confident that the strength of their schedule will help them through this weekend.

“What a lot of the guys don’t (think about),” Dantzler said, “is the mental aspect. They’re your age, they’re human. You can hurt them just like they can hurt you. Everyone puts their pants on the same way you do.”