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Illiana Wrestling Preview

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The squishy middle of the B1G (in geography and quality of ‘rasslin squads)

NCAA Wrestling: Big Ten Wrestling Championship Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The states of Illinois and Indiana boast three top 25 pre-season ranked teams using Intermat dual rankings and also Indinia. In the dominant world of B1G wrestling, being in the back half of the top 25 also puts you in the back half of the Big Ten/Fourteen. The three ranked teams are bunched together appearing at 18 jNU, 21, Illinois, and 22 Purdue. That is good enough to be the 8, 9, and 10th best teams in the B1G. Northwestern and Illinois are also ranked in tournament rankings at 12 and 18 respectively.

Illinois Fighting Illini

According to the team website, Illinois returns their entire roster from last year, a team that posted a nice 5-3 dual record in B1G competition, which due to COVID, was the only competition allowed outside of the NCAA tournament. There are internet rumors that All American Dylan Duncan and part-time starter Johnny Mologousis may not actually be returning. The five wins included beating all three of their Illiana brethren, mollywhopping the NUrds 31-6 and the Hosiery 39-3 and a 19-17 nailbiter against Purdue when HWT Luke Luffman sealed the come from behind victory.

The postseason tournaments were a mixed bag for the Illini. They finished a disappointing 11th at the B1G championships as both Braunagel twins placed 9th and Dylan Duncan was 7th, all well below their seeds. Big boy Luke Luffman was particularly disappointing as he lost to THREE! wrestlers he had beaten earlier in the year. Only freshman Lucas Byrd wrestled above his seed and claimed third place beating fellow freshman from Northwestern Chris Cannon to take the prize. At the NCAAs, Dylan Duncan totally redeemed himself with a 5th place All-American finish, taking down Chad Red, avenging his imaginary loss to the Nebraska grappler in the dual season. (I’m still a little pissed about that call, but I’m terribly bad at letting go of things. I can’t remember three things I was supposed to get at Aldi’s, but I can’t forget bad calls from 20 years ago.) I’m sure Dunc will happily take the fifth place medal as a consolation prize compared to the dual victory. Joining Duncan as a fifth place All-American finisher was Lucas Byrd. Here’s a nice piece of trivia on Byrd. He had originally signed on to wrestle for supposedly Big Ten team Maryland. He changed his mind either because they fired their coach or because he didn’t want to wrestle in jr high PE uniforms.

2022 looks to be a solid year for Illinois. Illinois started five sophomores and a freshman last year and since Illinois football coaches aren’t allowed in the wrestling room, I expect improvement from them. They have ranked wrestlers at 133 #6 Byrd, 141 #3 Duncan, 149 #15 Mike Carr, 165 #23 Danny Braunagel, 174 #33 DJ Shannon, 184 #21 Zac Braunagel, 197 #32 Matt Wroblewski, and HWT #25 Luke Luffman. Mike Carr returns and will now have wrestled more years than Robbie Hummel and Jess Settles played basketball combined. If he stays healthy, he joins several borderline AA candidates as both Braunagels, Luffman, and Cardani are all in the mix along with returning All-Americans Duncan and Byrd.

Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern had a tough dual season as they had pretty big holes in their lineup at 174, 184, and HWT and they finished 2-6. The quality young wrestlers in the other spots allowed them to finish a strong 7th place at B1Gs and 10th place at NCAAs. Ryan Deakin was the B1G champion at 157 and took third at NCAAs. Joining him with a third place finish was Yahya Thomas, who took third after a disappointing 8th place finish in the B1Gs.

Like their Land of Lincoln brethren, they return their entire lineup intact and I expect them to do very well in 2022. They will still struggle in duals as they haven’t filled in those holes in their lineup. Lucas Davison likely takes a step back as he bumps up to shaved bear weight class, but he is an exciting young talent. They do bring in numerous ranked wrestlers with Lucas Davison #20 at HWT, #30 David Ferrante at 165, #3 Ryan Deakin at 157, #4 Yahya at 149, #8 Chris Cannon at 133, and #15 Michael DeAugustino at 125.

Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue is an up and coming program that had a decent 2021 season. They finished 4-5 in the dual season including a resounding 28-8 throttling of Evanston’s Big Ten Team and a 38-3 mollywhopping of Indiana to claim the Old Oaken Singlet.

The postseason for Purdue was the polar opposite of Northwestern as they surprised the wrestling world with a sixth place finish at B1Gs and followed that up with a 26th place finish at NCAAs. They had zero All-Americans and only 197er Thomas Penola made it as far as the blood round. Devin Schroder was the human champion at 125 in the Big Ten tourney, but he didn’t get the crown because cyborg Spencer Lee was allowed to wrestle.

Purdue is getting better as a program. Like Illinois, they have depth across all ten weight classes, but they lack the top end guys to wrestle in session IV. Purdue’s ranked wrestlers include #13 Schroder at 125, #21 Parker Filius at 141, #9 Kendall Coleman at 157 (one of my favorite wrestlers to watch) #19 Gerrit Niejenhuis at 165, #20 Max Lyon at 184, and #14 Thomas Penola at 197.

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana was very happy that Maryland joined the conference so we would stop making fun of the Hoosiers for being everyone’s pump. Indiana was bad last year and they will be bad again this year.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Indiana wrestling team, but Donnell (DJ) Washington is definitely worth talking about. He is heading into 2021-22 ranked #10, but he had a fantastic freshman year. He was 6-2 in B1G duals. No other Indiana wrestler managed more than two wins in dual sessions and he beat the celebrated All-World Penn State freshman Carter Starocci. He’s very exciting and his matches are full of action.

In addition to Washington, they have three other ranked rasslers with Brock Hudkins at 125 and the Rooks brothers, Cayden and Graham at 141 and 149.