Huskie quintet prepared for NCAA championships

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DEKALB, Ill. – The five wrestlers who will represent Northern Illinois University at the NCAA Wrestling Championships 2021 in St. Louis will take to the national stage Thursday morning.

The action in the Enterprise Center begins at 10 a.m. CT, and ESPN3 covers all eight mats.

“It’s great to send five people to the NCAAs,” said NIU head coach Ryan Ludwig. “Our goal is to continuously improve the program, and it takes a whole team for individuals to be successful. The young men here at NIU get shopped in and do things right.”

The NIU’s five NCAA qualifiers this year are the most under Ludwig and match the amount he won for the 2017 NCAA championships, also held in St. Louis. It is the second time in school history that five huskies have advanced to the national tournament. NIU sent the school’s top six wrestlers to the NCAAs in 1985.

At the top of the huskie contingent is the 2021 Most Outstanding Wrestler of the MAC Championships, Brit Wilson. Wilson’s hometown of Mexico is from Missouri and is just under 120 miles from St. Louis.

Two-time MAC champion, 184 years old, Wilson has received his third consecutive NCAA offer, one of eight huskie wrestlers to receive the award, and the first since Shawn Scott (2015-17). He opens his championships with DeAndre Nassar from Cleveland. Wilson defeated Nassar 10-4 last season.

“Brit is a student of sports, a tireless competitor and a lifestyle champion,” said Ludwig. “Being able to qualify for the NCAA again speaks for these qualities.”

Bryce West, who went 125 to 2-1 at the 2019 NCAAs, returns to the national tournament at 133 this season. B. West will challenge conference opponent Cole Rhone from Bloomsburg in a pigtail fight. It will be the first meeting between the two of them.

“Bryce expects the best of himself and is excited to return to the NCAA Championship this year,” he said. “He’s a great team guy so it’s great for everyone.”

Wilson and B. West will lead the way for the three first-time NCAA Huskies competitors. Izzak Olejnik leads the trio, which will appear on the national stage for the first time in its career. Anthony Cheloni and Mason Kauffman appear together with Olejnik for the first time in the NCAA championships.

“Executives like Brit and Bryce provide that level of calm and consistency when the first-time qualifiers drive the experience,” he said. “It’s important to remember that you are prepared and ready. Stick to the routines that got you this far and trust your training when the first whistle blows.”

Olejnik, who qualified for the NCAAs last year but was unable to compete due to the event’s cancellation due to COVID-19, will compete as starting number 18 and compete at 165 against Dan Braunagel from state opponent Illinois Olejnik won the previous meeting between the both, 7-5, last season at the Convocation Center.

Cheloni, who received his first NCAA offer for finishing third in the MAC Championships, will meet Jonathan Millner (# 7) of Appalachian state.

Kauffman received the first NCAA offer of his career by getting one of the general selections at 174. The Huskie junior, who moved up two weight classes this season, finished fifth in the MAC Championships and faces Austin Murphy from Campbell’s game of the tournament in his initial.

NIU NCAA notices

• Three huskies, Izzak Olejnik, Bryce West and Brit Wilson have received multiple NCAA offers in their careers. Wilson qualified for the tournament in each of his first three seasons at NIU, while West (2019) and Olejnik (2020) received their second career offers.

• Bryce West and Brit Wilson return to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2019. Wilson qualified last season but was unable to participate as the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

• Bryce West started at 125 in 2019 and took a 2-1 lead in the event, while Wilson, who started at 174, lost both fights in Pittsburgh.

• Izzak Olejnik qualified for the NCAAs last season. However, he was unable to participate as the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

• This year’s NCAA championships are a homecoming for Mexican native Wilson. The hometown of Mo. Wilson is just under 120 miles from St. Louis.

• Both Anthony Cheloni and Mason Kauffman have moved up in weight classes this season. Cheloni, who started last season with 141, rose by 149 this year. Kauffman, who competed at 157 last year, jumped two weight classes in 2021.

• With five NCAA qualifiers in 2021, Northern Illinois University’s wrestling program extended its streak from at least one NCAA qualifier to 50 in 1972 when Larry Johnson earned the All-America Award in fifth place.

• NIU has two national champions in its history, with Roy Conrad winning the Division I title with 177 in 1960 and Neal McDonald winning the Division II championship in 1965.


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