DeKALB — Two returning 2019 NCAA Wrestling Tournament Huskie qualifiers were NIU’s top performers Friday and Saturday in the season opener for the wrestling team at the Michigan State University Open.
Redshirt sophomore Brit Wilson found success in his first competition since jumping to 184-pound weight class, winning third place in his bracket. Wilson qualified for the 2019 National tournament last year at 174 pounds.
Head Coach Ryan Ludwig was impressed with how Wilson performed at his new weight class, saying the focus is now on improving his abilities.
“[Wilson is] healthy, fast and strong,” Ludwig said. “He’s competing well right now and still has plenty of room to improve his wrestling. He’s right in the mix nationally.”
Wilson won his first three matches, two by technical fall, before falling by a 12-8 decision to University of Pittsburgh sophomore Nino Bonaccorsi in the division semi-finals. Wilson would win the consolation finals before winning the third place match by a no-contest.
Fellow redshirt sophomore and NCAA qualifier Bryce West placed a high tournament finish at 125 pounds to start the season, finishing fifth.
West picked up two pinfall wins and two more wins by decision, but suffered two losses, including a decision loss to Ohio State University sophomore Malik Heinselman. West avenged the loss in the fifth place match, pinning Heinselman in 1:36.
Redshirt first-year Gage Braun looked to repeat as 197 pound champion after winning first last year at the MSU Open. Braun picked up four wins over the course of the event, but suffered a pair of losses to Purdue University senior Christian Brunner.
Redshirt junior Max Ihry won four matches in his heavyweight debut. First-years Caleb Meekins and Alec Rees both picked up their first career wins in the underclassman portion of the competition.
Overall, Ludwig said wins are extremely valuable early in the year against the high level of competition they faced.
“The competition was tough and our guys picked up some nice wins that will help them with NCAA Coaches Panel Rankings in the second half of the year,” Ludwig said.
NIU will have its first one-on-one meet Nov. 15 when it hosts Bucknell University. With nearly two full weeks between the competitions, Ludwig said the team has time to fine tune its approach to big matches.
“We saw a lot of little things to work on,” Ludwig said. “Some little details that can change the dynamic in big matches. We’ll work diligently on those.”