ST. LOUIS, Mo.— A pair of incredible 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships journeys aren’t over yet for North Dakota State University 174-pound senior Kurtis Julson and 184 junior Hayden Zillmer, who fought their way through the consolation bracket during session IV on Friday, March 20, before 18,761 at the Scottrade Center. The total paid attendance for the four sessions is 74,044.
Julson posted a 10-4 decision over Oregon State’s Joe Lathem, while the No. 6-seeded Zillmer upset No. 2 Max Thomusseit of Pitt by the score of 7-1 to clinch places in the medal round of the NCAA Championships that start at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 21.
“This is the greatest feat I’ve ever accomplished and something I’ll remember the rest of my life. A sigh of relief, it’s a great feeling.”
Julson and Zillmer will earn NCAA Division I All-America honors for the first time in their respective careers. They will become the eighth and ninth Division I All-Americans in the wrestling program’s history.
“It’s exciting. I think we’re still trying to put it into words. I was confident going into the tournament that these guys would have opportunities and they really came to wrestle today. They competed well. They took advantage of situations in their matches. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys today,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish.
North Dakota State is No. 22 with 19.5 points in the team standings after four sessions. Ohio State leads with 86.5 points, Iowa is second with 73 points and Edinboro is third with 66.5.
Zillmer advanced to the consolation semifinals against Edinboro University’s Victor Avery (31-7), and will wrestle for third or fifth place. Julson lost his second match Friday evening and will wrestle for seventh place. He will face Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly (28-8) for the second time in the tournament and third time overall this season. Epperly has won the previous two meetings.
“I tried to remember everything I’ve worked for, especially in college the past five years — every sprint, every morning workout I didn’t want to go to, everytime I thought it was too hard and found a way to get through it. This is could be my last match, so I have to give it my all. This is my dream and it’s going to become a reality,” said Julson.
In his first match Friday evening, Julson, a senior from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. (Simley H.S.), utilized the aggressive style he has displayed all tournament. That approach led to a takedown and 2-0 lead at the 1:15 mark of the first period. Following an escape by Lathem, Julson ripped off another takedown with 2-seconds left to go ahead 4-1.
The second period saw Julson post an escape and score a two-point takedown as the lead ballooned to 7-1. He rolled up 1:26 of riding time and picked up another takedown in the third for the win.
“Kurt Julson is a competitor. He’s a fighter. He’s one of those guys you wish you had a whole room full of. I am just so happy for Kurt, all the time he has put in and all the work he has done is really paying off. It says something when you have a guy like Kurt Julson, who really buys into the system and paid his dues. Today, he reaps the rewards,” said Kish.
Julson ran into a buzz saw in his second match Friday evening against top-seeded Robert Kokesh of Nebraska, who posted an 11-3 major decision. Julson (23-11) is 4-2 at this season’s NCAA Championships and 6-4 overall entering Saturday’s match.
Zillmer, a junior from Crosby, Minn., took a different road to the victory in his opening match Friday evening. He’s had to rally to post three straight one-point wins to keep moving forward.
Thomusseit and Zillmer battled through a scoreless first period that saw both wrestlers leave their feet. Zillmer gained the escape and early 1-0 lead, and then exploded for a takedown and three-point near fall to expand the margin to 6-0 in the second period. Thomusseit couldn’t recover in the third and Zillmer closed the match with 1:14 riding time to make the final.
“Hayden (Zillmer) has to keep doing what he’s been doing. He’s wrestling, he’s competing. He is finding out what it’s like to compete in days two and three of the NCAA tournament. It’s tough, it’s a grind. It takes a toll on your body and on you mentally. The guy that isn’t afraid to come out, wrestle hard and compete. The guy that wants to win in the backend of this tournament, those are the guys who will have success,” said Kish.
Back to the script, Zillmer had to scratch out a 3-2 win over Nebraska’s No. 16-seeded Timothy Dudley. He came up with a twisting and turning takedown with 11-seconds left to edge Dudley, who had built up 1:28 of riding time in the second period. Zillmer (38-4) is 5-1 at this season’s NCAA Championships and 5-3 overall entering Saturday’s matches.
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