The Northern Illinois Huskies wrestling team opened its 2011-12 regular season schedule Sunday at Victor E. Court with a split between No. 21 Stanford and North Central. NIU defeated North Central, 30-15, and lost to Stanford, 20-13.
Northern Illinois 30, North Central 15
The Huskies kicked off their day on a high note Sunday with a 30-15 win over the North Central Cardinals.
The victory was also Ryan Ludwig‘s first as head coach at NIU.
“We preach that we need to be fighters and we are going to go out there and grind wins out,” he said. “In a wrestling match, you have to work through adversity and it’s about who can rise above that and battle to the end.”
After trailing 15-10 midway through the meet, Northern claimed four straight victories to take the match from North Central. The comeback began at 174, when Caleb Busson earned a 7-3 decision over Kyle Geary. Junior Arber Bebo followed that up at 184 with a second period pin of the Cardinals’ Phillip Norton to push NIU in front.
Mike Lukowski would clinch the win for NIU in the 197 match, dominating Dylan Mahler with an 18-2 technical fall. Jared Torrence put the finishing touches on the meet with a forfeit win at heavyweight.
The Huskies got out to a quick 4-0 lead courtesy of Nick Smith‘s 13-4 major decision at 125 over Brayan Gonzalez. However, the Cardinals would counter that at 133, when Nathan Fitzenreider – the third place finisher at last season’s DIII National Championship – pinned Rob Jillard with 15 seconds left in the match.
Kevin Fanta helped NIU reclaim the lead with a 9-3 win at 141 against North Central’s Andrew Zobac. The Cardinals followed that up with wins at 149 and 157 before the Huskies took control of the match.
For Ludwig, though, he knows there are lots of positives and negatives to take from this win.
“It feels good to know that we got a win, especially at home,” he said. “It’s very nice to have your inaugural win here in DeKalb. That being said, I’m not a guy who sits on those laurels very long and it’s back to work on Monday.”
Stanford 20, Northern Illinois 13
The Huskies nearly pulled off a huge upset Sunday afternoon, but it was not meant to be as No. 21 Stanford came back and topped Northern Illinois, 20-13.
The loss drops NIU to 1-1 on the season, while the nationally-ranked Cardinal improved to 2-1 on the opening weekend of NCAA competition.
“We should have won that match,” Ludwig said. “There’s no doubt about it. We need to get an attack and score.”
Both sides matched each other punch for punch in the first four matches. Nick Smith notched his second win of the day at 125, when he earned a 20-9 major decision over Matt Sencenbaugh. Stanford countered that with a major decision of their own at 133, as Ryan Mango outscored Rob Jillard, 11-3, in a matchup of 2011 NCAA Championship qualifiers.
NIU inched back ahead in the 141 match when Kevin Fanta manhandled Alex Manley, 9-3. However, the Cardinal tied it up again with Timmy Boone taking a 7-1 decision against Matt Smith at 149.
The Huskies would win tightly-contested matches at 157 and 165 to take a 13-7. Freshman Tyler Loethen earned his first collegiate win when he used an escape-takedown-nearfall combination in the final 30 seconds to beat Stanford’s Michael Kent, 9-4. Matt Mougin would win a second nail-biter in a row for NIU with a 2-1 decision against Garrett Schaner.
With a slim six-point lead, the Huskies couldn’t seal the deal, though, as Stanford would take the final four matches.
Following Caleb Busson’s loss to top-ranked Nick Amuchastegui at 174, Arber Bebo came within inches of halting the Cardinal comeback bid with an escape in the second overtime before losing 2-1 in three extra sessions.
A similar fate met Mike Lukowski at 197. Trailing 3-2 with time winding down, the senior made one final shot at Alan Yen for a takedown and the win. Yet, he was unable to complete the takedown before time expired.
The Cardinal would put the finishing touches on their victory with a 6-1 decision by Dan Scherer against Jared Torrence at heavyweight.
“All four of those guys were capable of winning those matches,” Ludwig said. “We just need to go back and iron out the details of how to do that.”
The Huskies will return to action Saturday, Nov. 12, when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., for the Michigan State Open. The tournament begins at 8 a.m. in the Jenison Field House.
For more information on NIU wrestling and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.