The Northern Illinois wrestling team fell to the No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats, 24-18, Friday night at historic Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Huskies won four matches and the final three of the night, but it was not enough to overcome the 24-3 lead Northwestern built after seven matches. The loss drops NIU to 6-8 on the year, while NU improves to 8-4 in 2011-12.
“First half of the meet, it was a pretty good effort by our guys,” said Huskie head coach Ryan Ludwig.
“However, we lost in the middle matches because we spent too much time down on the mat and didn’t wrestle in our best position, which is on our feet. At halftime, we talked about intensity and picking it up and the guys responded.”
“Although we didn’t walk away with the dual win, I am proud of our efforts and the way we responded and fought hard. That’s what we’ve been keying on.”
Huskie Nick Smith and NU’s Levi Mele kicked off the dual in a battle of nationally-ranked 125-pounders and a rematch of the Michigan State Open finals at that weight. However, the matchup became a war of attrition, as neither Smith nor Mele could get on the scoreboard after two periods. Mele, though, would get a breakthrough in the final stanza with a reversal and, with riding time, escaped with a 3-0 decision against Smith.
Northwestern would extend their lead to 7-0 after James Oster defeated Rob Jillard by a 11-2 major decision in the 133-pound match.
NIU would cut that lead down to four courtesy of Kevin Fanta’s 3-1 win over Pat Greco at 141.
Following a scoreless first, Fanta scored an escape early in the second period, then got a takedown with 10 seconds left in the period to take a 3-0 lead. The Lake Zurich, Ill., native would allow an early escape to Greco in the third, but a relentless defensive effort by Fanta sealed the win for the redshirt sophomore.
NU would take control of the match with wins at 149 and 157 to take a 17-3 lead into the break. Tyler Argue was defeated by Kaleb Friedley, 12-3, while Tyler Loethen was pinned in the third period by second-ranked Jason Welch before halftime.
The Wildcat momentum carried into the second half when NU’s Pierce Harger scored a major decision – the Wildcats’ third of the night – against Matt Mougin, 8-0, in the 165-pound match. The hosts would get their largest lead of the night at 24-3 when No. 12 Lee Munster topped Caleb Busson at 174.
The Huskies, though, failed to give up despite the deficit. Brad Dieckhaus, who returned to the lineup after an ankle injury sidelined him for a month, earned Northern’s first pinfall of the night, topping Marcus Shrewsbury early in the third period.
Mike Lukowski continued the Cardinal and Black’s winning streak at 197, when he earned a 4-1 decision against John Schoen for his fourth win in his last five matches.
“Mike Lukowski, I was unbelievably proud of his effort tonight,” Ludwig said. “He’s lost against that kid before and he was determined to make things happen. He really showed his heart tonight.”
Jared Torrence closed out the night for NIU with a pin in the closing seconds, falling Ben Kuhar at 6:48 in the heavyweight match.
The Huskies will return home Sunday, Feb. 12, when they host SIU-Edwardsville and Tiffin on NIU Wrestling Alumni Day. The triangular in Victor E. Court begins at noon when NIU battles the in-state rival Cougars.
For more information on NIU wrestling and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.