MAC Championship on tap for wrestling


Northern Star File Photo- Kevin Fanta

By Mike Romor

Heading into the MAC Championships in Athens, Ohio, NIU wrestling has a lot to prove.

NIU (8-9, 0-5 MAC) was the only MAC school to finish with a winless conference record, but head coach Ryan Ludwig hopes his grapplers have put the regular season behind them in order to obtain a MAC Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

NIU’s last dual of the regular season was a loss to Buffalo at home. Since then, Ludwig has been impressed with the intensity the team has shown during its workouts.

“We’ve had a great, upbeat attitude recently,” Ludwig said. “Guys have been training hard and training right.”

At 125, no. 20 Nick Smith will be healthy and ready to go after missing matches periodically throughout the season.

Smith finished with a 13-4 overall record, posting four major decisions and two pinfall victories. Despite his success, his 2-2 conference record may hinder his chances of receiving a first or second seed.

Senior Brad Dieckhaus, ranked 18th in the nation, has a chance at receiving the top seed at 184. After winning the 184 title last season, Dieckhaus missed a couple stretches during the regular season. Although he battled knee and ankle injuries, Dieckhaus finished his season with an 11-0 record, becoming the first Huskie since Neal McDonald’s 13-0 1964-1965 campaign.

Dieckhaus’s seemingly toughest challenge in the MAC will be Central Michigan University’s Ben Bennett, whose undefeated MAC record contributed to a 28-3 overall record. The back-to-back All-American at 174 jumped up a weight class for his junior season and has stormed through the MAC, earning one major decision, two pinfall and three technical fall victories.

The only other senior competing for the Huskies will be Mike Lukowski. Lukowski is coming off his most impressive season as a Huskie, finishing 10-6 at 197. With a 3-2 conference record, Lukowski started the season inconsistently but finished strong, winning six of his last eight matches.

Ludwig knows his seniors will put everything on the line and expects to see the pair expend all they can in their last chance at an NCAA All-American run.

“This is their last go-around and last time they’ll be wrestling at the Mid-American Conference meet,” Ludwig said. “Both of them are very motivated individuals that are looking to get through the MAC Championships and through the National Championships.”

Throughout the regular season, heavyweight Jared Torrence developed offensively and made the end of NIU’s lineup even stronger.

Torrence finished his season 14-10, but showed tremendous growth toward the end of the season. Winning his final five matches, including two against MAC opponents, Torrence made a case for the number four seed.

No. 31 Kevin Fanta has been strong throughout the course of the season, finishing tied for the team’s best record with Smith at 13-4. Fanta won seven straight matches in his first season at 141, going undefeated throughout January. Finishing with a 5-2 mark against MAC opponents, Fanta has a chance at getting the second seed for the tournament.

“[Fanta and Torrence] have done a very good job of improving their individual skills,” Ludwig said. “Torrence has improved his consistency since the beginning of the year and done a fantastic job of developing his offense. I know they both have high expectations of themselves.”