Seniors Nick Smith and Rob Jillard helped the Northern Illinois University wrestling team extend its postseason run Sunday in Kent, Ohio, as both clinched automatic berths to the NCAA tournament on the final day of the MAC Championships.
Smith and Jillard each took fourth place finishes at 133 and 149, respectively, while Shawn Scott (third-197), Shaun’Qae McMurtry (fourth-165) and Jared Torrence (fifth-285) also found their way onto the podium.
As a team, the Huskies took eighth place with 50 points, as Missouri sneaked past Northern Iowa to win its second consecutive conference crown.
“Nick did a great job staying in position and wrestling where he is best,” said NIU head coach Ryan Ludwig. “It paid off for him today with a bid to the NCAA Championships.”
Smith punched his first-career ticket to the NCAA tournament early in the day with a win over Missouri’s Matt Manley. After building a 7-1 lead early in the second period, the NIU senior was able to flip Manley and pinned him to officially clinch the auto bid. With that berth in hand, Smith conceded the third-place match to Mack McGuire of Kent State.
Meanwhile, Jillard took a less-conventional path to his NCAA berth – the second of his career and the first since 2011 when he was a freshman at Liberty University.
After dropping a consolation semifinal match to KSU’s Mike DePalma, 10-3, the senior bounced back with a 9-3 win over Central Michigan’s Scott Mattingly in the fifth-place match. Jillard returned to the mat moments later to challenge Tywan Claxton of Ohio for fourth place, a match he would win via a 4-0 decision.
“Rob wrestled and amazingly hard-fought match with both guys and came out victorious,” Ludwig said. “He was as focused and determined as I’ve seen him.”
At 165, McMurtry’s run for an automatic NCAA tournament spot fell just short. The redshirt freshman opened the day with an 8-4 win over KSU’s Tyler Buckwalter to advance to the third-place match against Zach Toal of Missouri – the same individual whom McMurtry upset in yesterday’s quarterfinals. Yet, it was the nationally-ranked Toal who flipped the script with a 6-3 decision against McMurtry.
Scott also came within one match of clinching a national berth. After dispatching Northern Iowa’s Jared Bartel in the consolation semifinals with a 3-2 overtime win, the redshirt freshman claimed third place with a close 3-2 triumph against Old Dominion’s Kevin Beazley. In the true second match against Phil Wellington of Ohio, though, Scott came just short, dropping a 5-2 decision to give the MAC’s second auto bid at 197 to Wellington.
Heavyweight Torrence ended the tournament in fifth place. Following a 4-2 defeat against UNI’s Blaize Cabell, the redshirt senior capped the day with a convincing 5-1 win over Khodar Hoballah of Eastern Michigan.
The Huskies’ season concludes in two weeks when they head to Oklahoma City for the 2014 NCAA Championships. The tournament starts Thursday, March 20, and runs through Saturday, March 22.
For more information on NIU wrestling and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.