DeKALB — Nearly two weeks after several impressive outings Nov. 2 at the Michigan State Open, the NIU wrestling team will start its schedule with three home contests this weekend.
NIU will grapple 7 p.m. Friday against Bucknell University before hosting its annual Huskie Duals competition Sunday.
Head Coach Ryan Ludwig said he’s seen a plethora of improvements from his team since its last competition and hopes those improvements lead to great results this weekend.
“What we’ve really been working on is closing the gap in our hand fights, scoring from our hand fights and creating more scoring opportunities,” Ludwig said. “We’ve worked hard to get out of bottom positions, and I think our guys have worked really hard in that regard.”
The weekend of competition starts with a meet against the Bucknell Bison, a program Ludwig has high praise for.
“Bucknell is a well-coached, solid program that always has guys going to the national tournament,” Ludwig said. “We see it as an opportunity to wrestle some of the best in the country and, more importantly, face some non-regional competition.”
A key matchup Friday will be redshirt first-year Gage Braun, facing Bucknell senior Drew Phipps, 2019 NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds. Braun went 12-1 in competition last season, and Ludwig hopes a good showing against Phipps can help establish Braun in national recognition.
“We feel that [Braun] is an up-and-coming guy who’s looking to prove his mettle on the national scene,” Ludwig said. “While that’s a tough matchup and a big challenge, we see it as a way for him to learn and eventually break out on the national scene.”
After its Bucknell meet, NIU will host the Huskie Duals on Sunday starting at noon with teams from across the country coming in for competition. The Huskies are scheduled to meet Harper College and Rider University, a newly added Mid-American Conference team.
Ludwig said the added conference implications add pressure to the meeting with Rider, who sent four wrestlers to the national tournament.
“Those matches will have MAC implications as well as national implications,” Ludwig said. “They’re going to bring a host of nationally-ranked opponents to DeKalb on Sunday. There are important matchups up and down the schedule.”