No. 21 Illinois wrestling drops Big Ten opener to No. 16 Rutgers


Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Wrestler Justin Cardani grabs a hold of his opponent during the Big Ten Opener against Rutgers on Jan. 4. The Illini lost against the Rutgers 21-13.

By Nick Kane, Contributing Writer

After an impressive showing at the Matmen Open and jumping three spots in the rankings, No. 21 Illinois dropped its Big Ten opener against No. 16 Rutgers, 21-13, on Friday night. 

The night began with Justin Cardani competing at 125 pounds and coming off a first-place finish at the Matmen Open. Cardani was able to pick up a riding time point, but unfortunately for the Illini, Cardani’s hot streak came to an end as he lost to Dylan Sawyer in a hard-fought decision, 3-1.

Lucas Byrd, who also was coming off a first-place finish at the Matmen Open, gave the Illini the lead with a dominating 13-2 major decision over Rutgers’s Joey Olivieri at 133-pounds. The win was Byrd’s 11th win of the season.

In the 141-pound bout, The Illini’s We Rachal lost by tech fall to Sebastian Rivera. Despite placing seventh in his last event, Rachal struggled in the Big Ten opener and lost the decision, 22-7, which gave Rutgers an 8-4 lead. 

Illinois dropped its next two matches as Rutgers extended its lead to 14-4. Illinois’ Christian Kanzler lost his match at 149-pounds to Michael Van Brille by decision, 3-2. At 157-pounds, Joe Roberts lost to Robert Kanniard by decision, 7-4.

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    Danny Braunagel cut the deficit in half with a 9-3 decision win over Andrew Clark at 165-pounds. The Illini started a little winning streak of their own after 174-pound DJ Shannon narrowly beat Conner O’Neill by decision, 7-5.

    Rutgers’s John Poznanski gave the Scarlet Knights more breathing room after beating Illinois’ Zac Braunagel in a 5-2 decision. This gave Rutgers a 17-10 lead. 

    Rutgers basically clinched the victory after Matt Wroblewski was defeated by major decision against Greg Bulsack, 9-1, and gave Rutgers a 21-10 lead. 

    Despite the loss, Luke Luffman stayed hot and allowed the Illini to finish on a high note with his 5-2 decision victory in the heavyweight matchup. Luffman was able to grab three points and made the final score 21-10. 

    Things will not get easier for the Illini as they take on the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes in yet another conference matchup in their home opener at State Farm Center on Sunday at 3 p.m.



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