An interview by Brogan Louden
Izzak Olejnik never let his lack of recruitment from top name schools deter him from asserting his dominance at the Division 1 level and making his presence known. Originally out of Bakersfield High School in California, Olejnik was a two-time state place winner, finishing fifth as a sophomore and fourth as a senior. After high school, he decided to continue his wrestling career at Northern Illinois University.
Olejnik quickly gained the recognition he rightfully deserved as he was named the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Freshman of the year in the 2019-2020 season. Now, in his fifth season as a redshirt senior, the Husky is both a three-time MAC finalist and NCAA qualifier.
This upcoming postseason, he will finally look to get over the hump and reach the podium at the NCAA Championships. Here’s what Izzak had to say about becoming a Chain Wrestling athlete and his career thus far.
Q: Why did you decide to team up with Chain Wrestling?
A: I decided to team up with Chain Wrestling because I love how they are able to support current athletes and allow them to grow their name and image within the sport of wrestling. Having that exposure is very helpful, for not only the athlete, but for the sport itself.
Q: How did you get your start in wrestling and at what point did you decide to fully pursue the sport?
A: I started wrestling at age four; my dad got me into the sport. I played other sports like baseball and golf growing up, but I really started to take wrestling seriously when I was about seven years old. It has been my number one sport ever since.
Q: How did growing up wrestling in a highly competitive state, like California, prepare you for the D1 level?
A: California wrestling is one of the nation's best and being able to come out of the state has prepared me for wrestling at the next level. I have been able to wrestle with all kinds of top-tier competition ever since I was in elementary school, and I did not have to travel very far to get those matches in. Being from Bakersfield, I am centrally located, so all the good wrestling was in my section in high school. High level wrestling has been all I have ever known and that is because of the competitiveness of the state.
Q: During the recruiting process, what schools did you consider and what ultimately determined your decision to go to Northern Illinois University?
A: Coming out of high school I was not highly recruited. I had a couple D1 offers and some D3 schools. I was deciding between NIU and Cal State-Bakersfield. Being from Bakersfield, it was a tough decision not to go to CSUB given that is where a lot of my uncles and dad went to wrestle. However, I wanted to be able to create my own path and make a name for myself somewhere where I was not known. My family is also big Chicago sports fans so it kind of gave me another
reason. I really liked the coaching staff and I felt like it was the right fit for me.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes you had to make transitioning into college wrestling?
A: Some of the biggest challenges I faced coming out of high school was strength. In high school, you could kind of get away with not really dedicating yourself to training in the weight room, but I quickly realized college was different in that aspect. Also, the pace of a college room is a lot different than high school. I thought my high school did a pretty good job simulating a college feel, but it is a big difference in pace and transitional wrestling. Making those changes has
brought my wrestling to a whole new level.
Q: In your wrestling career, what matches most stand out to you? Are there any potential rematches that you are looking forward to in the postseason?
A: One match that stands out to me is probably my match to win my first MAC championship. Last year I tore my UCL in December and didn’t wrestle for a month. With a whole bunch of rehab and tape I was able to compete and fight through some adversity to win that finals match. Obviously, I always want to run back any matches that I lose, but one that stands out to me the most is probably Cam Amine. He’s a guy that I have wrestled twice and both matches have been
super close where I felt like I should’ve come away with a win both times. I am looking forward to a match against him.
Q: What is the atmosphere and culture like in the NIU wrestling room?
A: The atmosphere and culture in the NIU wrestling room is always positive. We have become a super close group and have been improving as a team every year. Even though we are not a big- time school, it has been proven that you can be an All American or a national champ here. Additionally, I believe we have the coaches who care enough about what is going on to do so. Our slogan is Work Like a Dog, and I think we prove that every day in the room and outside of the room.
Q: What has wrestling at the Division 1 level taught you most about yourself?
A: It has taught me that I am capable of so much more than I think I am. Coming out of high school having placed at California state two times, I set the bar for myself kind of low. I was getting beat up the first couple months in the college room. I do not think I got a takedown the first three months. I continued to work and grow mentally. I figured out that it does not matter what you did in high
school, as long as you work as hard as you can, you get better. I try and be the hardest worker in the room every day and that is what I live by.
Q: Other than in front of your home crowd, where has been your favorite place that you have wrestled at in college?
A: NCAAs is an electric place to wrestle at, but besides that, I think traveling back to California and wrestling at Cal Poly was a pretty cool trip to go on.
Q: Given your success and exposure over the last four seasons, have you been able to step into a leadership role on your team? What is the biggest piece of advice that you give to the younger guys on the team?
A: I have been able to be a captain of the team for three years now and one thing I always try and do is lead by example. A lot of the time guys will not really follow what you say if you are not backing it up. I try and lead by example and tell the younger guys that the work they put in now will benefit them in the long run.
Q: As you look to capture your first All-American honor this season, what would it mean for you to be able to bring that back to your school and join a select group?
A: It would mean everything to be able to bring an All-American honor back to NIU this year. I have trained so hard my entire life and being able to bring an AA back would be awesome. My coaches have put so much time and effort into making me who I am today as a wrestler and a man, so I want to be able to do it for them, as well as myself and my family. It would also be cool to have my name etched into the wrestling room walls under the All Americans.
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About the author: Brogan Louden
Brogan Louden, a 2022 graduate of Shippensburg University, is from the great state of Pennsylvania. Growing up his entire life surrounded by some of the best wrestling in the nation, he quickly discovered his strong passion and love for the
sport. Now, he is looking to pursue a career in wrestling media to help bring more
awareness and excitement to the sport.