Luffman leads Illini to victory


By Josh Pietsch, Staff Writer

The Illini wrestling team traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, Thursday to face the No. 13-ranked Missouri Tigers at Francis Howell High School. In a hard-fought and dramatic battle, the Illini were able to pull off the upset in come-from-behind fashion to defeat the Tigers 19-14. Once again the Illini were led by freshman Luke Luffman and got a boost with an upset win by redshirt senior Joey Gunther. 

 The Illini got off to a quick start by winning the first two matches of the day. Redshirt freshman Justin Cardani won the first match of the day at 125 pounds, and No. 9-ranked senior Travis Piotrowski defeated No. 25-ranked Alan Hart at 133 pounds to put the Illini ahead 6-0. 

The strong play from No. 5-ranked Grant Leeth of the Tigers was too much for Illini redshirt freshman We Rachal, as Leeth defeated Rachal in their match at 141 pounds by major decision. Leeth’s teammates second-ranked Brock Mauller at 149 and 14th ranked Jarrett Jacques at 157, followed him up by earning hard-fought victories. Their wins put the Tigers ahead 11-6 heading into the intermission. 

Trailing by five points halfway through the match, the Illini knew they needed a boost to give themselves a chance to win. Luckily for the team, they got exactly what they needed. At 165 pounds, No. 23-ranked redshirt freshman Danny Braunagel won his match by decision over Peyton Mocco. Facing Connor Flynn, a top-10 wrestler at 174 pounds, No. 18-ranked Gunther gave the Illini an upset win and put Illinois back on top 12-11. 

After No. 18-ranked redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel, at 184 pounds, gave the Illini their third-straight win, 20th ranked Wyatt Koelling put the Tigers on his back. He defeated redshirt sophomore Matt Wroblewski at 197 pounds to give his team a chance in the match. The Illini still led, but only 16-14, meaning it all came down to the 285-pound match. 

With a victory on the line, Luffman knew he had to wrestle his best to give his team the upset-victory over the Tigers. The 6-0 Luffman had to face off against redshirt junior Rodrigo Diaz. After trailing early, Luffman delivered a comeback victory of his own, taking his match 9-7. His win sealed the upset win for the Illini, defeating the Tigers by a score of 19-14. 

Luffman’s victory was very symbolic of the match for the Illini, coming back to defeat a strong opponent. Luffman improved his record to 7-0, while Danny leads the team with eight wins to this point in the season, as his record sits at 8-1. 

The Illini will get some time off following their victory over the Tigers and will not wrestle again until early December. After going three weeks without a match, the Illini are scheduled to wrestle at home for the first time this season. Illinois will host the Northern Illinois Huskies in a dual-meet on Dec. 6. The meet will be held at Huff Hall and is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. 

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