Four members of Illinois wrestling to compete in 2022 NCAA Championships


Sydney Laput

Redshirt sophomore Zac Braunagel wins his match against Northwestern on Jan. 29. Braunagel and three other Illini wrestlers will be competing in the NCAA Championships from Thursday to Saturday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

After a 3-7 regular season that saw many ups and downs, Illinois wrestling still has four members of the team traveling to Detroit for this weekend’s NCAA Championships.

Coming off an inconsistent team effort at the Big Ten Championships two weekends ago, Illinois saw three of their wrestlers medal and place in the top eight, resulting in bids to the NCAA Championships, while six wrestlers went winless on the weekend.

One of the three that medaled was none other than redshirt freshman Lucas Byrd. Byrd is having an incredible year at the individual level, going undefeated in Big Ten dual meets, where the Illini matched up against seven top-25 teams. Earning All-American honors at 133-pounds last season, Byrd is hoping to surpass his 5th place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships.

One of the other qualifiers for Detroit this weekend is redshirt sophomore Zac Braunagel. Coming off a third place finish at the Big Ten Championships at 184-pounds, Braunagel is heating up at the right time. His third place finish at the Big Ten Championships is the perfect way to enter this weekend, as he was also the Illini’s highest finisher at the event.

Sophomore Luke Luffman placed sixth at the Big Ten Championships and will also be at the Little Caesars Arena this Thursday. Qualifying at 285-pounds three years in a row, Luffman will be looking to surpass qualification and place at the event.

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Illinois’ final qualifier of the weekend is redshirt sophomore Justin Cardani, who qualified for the NCAA Championships at 125-pounds. Placing ninth at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, Cardani will be looking to improve on this placement in Detroit. Had the 2020 NCAA Championships not been canceled, this would have been Cardani’s second year attending the event. After missing out in 2021, Cardani will be looking to make his mark on the competition in his third season.

Although at a team level the Illini did not perform to the level they had hoped, having four wrestlers achieve a berth to the NCAA Championships this season is a great achievement and one that will help the team bounce back next season.

Wrestlers from across the country will gather at the Little Caesars Arena come Thursday at 10 a.m. The event will last three days, and finish on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.



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