Fanta, Dieckhaus clinch NCAA berths

By Mike Romor

Three NIU wrestlers made it to the championship match in their weight classes and two Huskies earned trips to the NCAA Championships after solid performances in Sunday’s MAC Championships.

Central Michigan University won the team title for the 11th consecutive season, finishing with 89 points with five Chippewas taking first in their respected weight classes. Kent State finished second with 79 team points. Eastern Michigan finished third with 49 team points.

NIU finished fifth with 41 points, just a half point behind Ohio, while Buffalo finished sixth with 27 points.

At 141, NIU’s Kevin Fanta started off his day in the semifinals after a first round bye, but had to go up against Buffalo’s Kevin Smith, who defeated Fanta two weeks ago in DeKalb.

Fanta avenged his prior defeat with a 4-3 victory to send him to the championship match.

In the championship, Fanta’s hopes of a title faded as Kent State’s Tyler Small claimed an impressive 6-0 victory.

“I think I wrestled more into his gameplan,” Fanta said. “He’s a great wrestler and to win I have to make him wrestle my style, not his.”

Although Fanta’s day did not end as planned, NIU head coach Ryan Ludwig was excited for the redshirt sophomore.

“It’s huge to qualify [as a sophomore],” Ludwig said. “With what he’s accomplished this year it’s nice to think of what he can accomplish in the years to come.”

At 184, senior Brad Dieckhaus entered the tournament undefeated throughout an injury-riddled season. Despite being 11-0, Dieckhaus failed to be seeded, forcing him to work his way through the bracket to reach the finals.

After making quick work of his first two opponents with pinfall victories, Dieckhaus met CMU’s No. 4 nationally ranked Ben Bennett in the finals to defend last year’s title.

Bennett prevailed 8-1, giving Dieckhaus his first loss of the season. Although he dropped the championship match, Dieckhaus earned his second straight trip to the national tournament, which is being held only minutes from his hometown St. Louis, Mo.

“There’ll be a lot inspiration [at Nationals],” Dieckhaus said. “I started my career in St. Louis and I’m going to end it there. I’m definitely going to have a big fan support from the area and should have a good crowd which should help me push myself to the limit.”

Fellow senior Mike Lukowski participated in his final event as a Huskie, failing to advance to the NCAA Championships at 197.

Lukowski lost the third place match to CMU’s Craig Kelliher.

“Mike wrestled great out there today,” Ludwig said. “He wrestled his style pretty well and just ended up not getting the wins. He came in wanting to win the tournament but sometimes things don’t go your way. He’s been a great leader and wrestled with a lot of heart and soul and we’re always proud to call him a Huskie.”

Rob Jillard also looked promising for the Huskies, pinning his opening opponent and holding on to a tough 3-2 decision to advance to the finals.

In the finals, Jillard faced CMU’s Zach Horan, who blanked Jillard 5-0, ending his chances of an NCAA berth in his first season as a Huskie.

“Rob Jillard came to wrestle,” Ludwig said. “The coaching staff saw what he can do and that’s why we brought him here. He changed his mindset a little bit today and came out firing. He gave up less points in the neutral position and it worked for him.”