The Northern Illinois wrestling team will send at least one Huskie to the 2013 NCAA Championships, as Matt Mougin clinched an automatic bid as part of the Huskies’ fifth place finish at Sunday’s Mid-American Conference Championships.
Mougin’s berth marks the 42nd consecutive season in which at least one NIU wrestler has advanced to the NCAA Championships.
As a team, NIU tied with Ohio with 63.5 points. Missouri ended Central Michigan’s 11-year reign atop the conference with 136 points, easily outpacing CMU’s 88 points. Individually, eight Huskies placed and five NIU wrestlers placed higher than their seeding.
“I am proud of the way we came out to compete today,” said NIU head coach Ryan Ludwig. “We have made strides all season as a team and I was pleased to see the guys get some rewards for their tireless work. We exceeded many expectations as a team and we still know we are hungry for much more.”
Mougin earned his first career trip to nationals by doing it the hard way. After dropping his first match of the day to Ohio’s Cody Rogers in a 2-1 decision, NIU’s 174-pounder kept himself alive for one of the MAC’s five auto bids at that class with a convincing 10-5 win over Northern Iowa’s Cody Caldwell.
An 8-4 loss against top-seeded Todd Porter of MU put Mougin in a winner-take-all fifth place match against Kent State’s Sam Wheeler – an opponent against whom Mougin had lost to back in December. However, the Columbus Junction, Iowa, native punched his ticket to Des Moines with a first period pin against Wheeler.
“Matt Mougin had an absolutely outstanding day of competition and fought with guts,” Ludwig said. “He qualifies for the NCAA tournament and we couldn’t be happier for him.”
Several other Huskies will have to wait until Wednesday to learn if they will be selected for an at-large bid despite strong showings Sunday.
Kevin Fanta took second at 141 pounds for the second straight season. The 2012 NCAA qualifier started with two wins, defeating Eastern Michigan’s Seth Schaner, 9-5, and Buffalo’s Erik Galloway, 6-1, to earn a spot in the finals against UNI’s Joey Lazor. Yet, it was the nationally ranked and top-seeded Lazor who emerged with a tight 1-0 win in the final. Fanta, though, bolstered his resume with an 8-3 win against Missouri’s Nicholas Hucke in the true second match.
Nick Smith earned a fourth place finish at 133 pounds, putting him in solid position for an at-large berth. Smith pinned KSU’s Mackenzie McGuire in the first round, but was pinned himself by MU’s Nathan McCormick in the semifinals. The NIU junior bounced back by topping Vincent Pizzuto of EMU in a 12-2 major decision. In the third place match, CMU’s Scotti Sentes grabbed the last auto bid at 133 with a 11-8 win against Smith.
Jared Torrence also got a strong fourth place finish on the day. Entering as the five seed, the Huskie heavyweight knocked off UNI’s Blayne Beale, 4-2, in the first round. That win led to a matchup against top-ranked Dom Bradley of Missouri, who dealt Torrence a 4-0 loss. In the consolation bracket, Torrence defeated Keith Witt of KSU in a 3-0 decision before falling to 2012 All-American Jeremy Johnson of Ohio by pin.
Rob Jillard took home fourth place at 149 pounds. In a similar fashion to Torrence and Smith, Jillard win his first round match by slipping past Ohio’s Andrew Romanchik, 1-0. In the semis, he lost to top-seeded Drake Houdashelt, 16-3. Jillard earned a 4-1 win against Bart Reiter of UNI before losing a 6-1 decision to Donnie Corby of CMU.
Three other Huskies came away with sixth place finishes on the day. In his first collegiate postseason, freshman Andrew Morse found his way onto the podium at 157. Meanwhile, Sam Bennett took sixth at 165 and Parker Settecase did likewise at 197.
The Huskies end their season at the 2013 NCAA Championships March 21-23 in Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena. NIU will be assured of at least one representative in Mougin, while others certainly could be added to the mix when at-large bids are announced Wednesday.
“I am anxiously awaiting the release of the NCAA tournament at-large berths this week, as I believe we have some legitimate candidates,” Ludwig said.
For more information on NIU wrestling and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.