Byrd earns All-American honors for second season, places highest of four Illinois wrestlers at NCAA Championships


Sydney Laput

Redshirt freshman Lucas Byrd attempts to takedown his Northwestern opponent on Jan. 29. Byrd receives an All-American honors a second time in a row.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

After this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, Illinois wrestling has come to its conclusion for the season, seeing redshirt freshman Lucas Byrd place fifth, earning All-American honors at 133-pounds two years in a row.

Byrd’s incredible run started out with an upset loss by fall (2:27) in the first round. After being knocked down to the consolation bracket and on the brink of elimination, Byrd battled back. He won five straight matches by decision, eventually reaching the consolation semifinal. Byrd lost this match by decision to the No. 5 seed, 10-6, but won the fifth-place match by fall (6:59) over the No. 4 seed. 

Byrd’s fifth-place match win secured him All-American honors for the second time in just three seasons with the Illini. This win capped off an incredible season for the redshirt freshman that saw him go 8-0 in Big Ten meets, secure 39 dual meet points in 10 matches, and finally, place top five at the NCAA Championships.

Illinois was represented by three other wrestlers at the meet in addition to Byrd, seeing redshirt sophomore Zac Braunagel compete at 184 pounds, redshirt sophomore Justin Cardani at 125 pounds, and sophomore Luke Luffman at 285 pounds.

While none of these three placed as high as Byrd, they represented Illinois well. Cardani went 0-2 on the weekend as he lost to the No. 6 seed 9-0 and then lost his consolation match 5-1.

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Luffman went 1-2 on the weekend, doing slightly better than Cardani. Luffman won his first match by major decision, 10-2, before losing his next two matches by major decision, 12-3 and 14-4, respectively.

Braunagel’s record in Detroit was an even 2-2, which saw him win his first two matches, advancing to the quarterfinals. Braunagel would just miss out on placing at the championships as he would then lose his quarterfinal match by decision, 12-5, and his consolation bracket match by a 3-1 decision.

NCAA Championships showed that the future of Illinois wrestling is bright. Although the 3-7 regular season team record may suggest otherwise, the team’s leaders showed up when it mattered and made it far in Detroit. 



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