Top Ten Illinois Team

Illinois did have a top ten team in action this weekend. Many of you are probably thinking the basketball team was top ten, but dropped to #22 in the last poll and they don't play until next Friday, dummy. Maybe some of you are wondering if the volleyball team is ranked this year, but alas, they are not. Illinois wrestling went from unranked to #7 in two weeks with some impressive performances over the last three matches and will likely maintain that ranking with another win last night to go 4-0 on the year.

Illinois started the year with a dominant performance over Indiana, winning 39-3 and coming into the rankings at #24 on the back of that strong dual win. Illinois was clearly better conditioned up and down the lineup as numerous Indiana grapplers were gassed by the 2nd and 3rd periods.

The following weekend (last Sunday) was the first tri-dual meet for Illinois, facing two ranked teams in Wisconsin (22) and Ohio State ranked at #8 at the time. I really enjoyed the setup for the tri-dual as they had two mats going. There were several strong performances for the Illini as both Braunagel twins, Lucas Byrd, and Justin Cardani picked up wins over ranked wrestlers. Danny Pucino picked up two wins in his first start filling in for the injured Dylan Duncan and those were key, but none of those guys came close to having the day that Luke Luffman had. Luffman was #27 in the coaches poll and was facing the #6 ranked transfer to OSU in Tate Orndorff to begin his day and it only got tougher as he had to take on #5 ranked Trent Hillger from Wisconsin to finish the day.

Luffman used an arm throw to get Orndorff off balance and was able to cover quickly for the takedown and then held on against Orndorff's attacks for a 3-2 victory. Against Hillger, Luffman fell behind early and was down 3-2 in the third against a clearly gassed opponent. Luffman pressed the attack and late in the third, he nearly secured a takedown, but Hillger was able to dive off the mat to avoid the two. However, the refs gave Hillger a penalty for fleeing the mat and tied the match. Neither wrestler scored in sudden victory, but Luffman was able to escape in the first tie-breaker and then ride Hillger out for the one point win. Those two wins catapaulted Luffman up to #12 in the HWT rankings.

Last night, Illinois took on a game Purdue team, ranked at #13.Dylan Duncan was back in the lineup, but unfortunately, Danny Braunagel was on the sideline with a sling on his arm. DJ Shannon was the star of the night as he upset #12 ranked wrestler for Purdue 2-1 with a strong 3rd period ride to secure a riding time point. Byrd secured his fourth win of the year with a pin at 133. Those bonus points proved crucial as Luffman came to mat with the Illinois down 17-16 and secured the win for himself and team 19-17.

This Illinois team is solid up and down the lineup and will do well in duals although we lack the high end firepower that we had in recent years with Delgado and Imar. Beating #8 OSU, #13 Purdue, and #22 Wisconsin are a great start, but next weekend gets markedly tougher for the Illini as the Illini face #2 Michigan and #1 Iowa in a tri-dual meet one week from tomorrow.

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