Photos by Becky LaMont / Illinois Matmen
By JARED BELL
Luke Luffman felt right at home Saturday.
Wrestling on his future college campus, the 285-pound Urbana senior bested the field yet again at the IHSA State Tournament at the State Farm Center in Champaign as Luffman claimed his third straight Class 2A state title.
“Coming here and wrestling in front of this crowd, there’s just nothing like it,” Luffman said. “This title is probably the best one because I have a lot more family here, was able to move a lot better and it’s just been fun.”
One of two wrestlers looking to win a third straight state title, Luffman was the only grappler to accomplish the feat after Aurora Christian 126-pound junior Cameron Johnson injury defaulted after suffering an injury in his title match.
That left Luffman as the sole survivor, and he didn’t disappoint.
With the U of I coaches in the stands, Luffman – the two-time returning 2A 220 state champ – defeated Westville’s Hayden Copass by pin fall at 3:03 to win the Class 2A 285-pound state title.
It was the fourth time this season Luffman has defeated Copass, and the second straight week.
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“It just feels great to come out here and get the job done,” said Luffman, who will take in the U of I Senior Day against NCAA No. 1-ranked Penn State in person on Sunday.
While Luffman experienced exhilaration, Johnson suffered heartbreak.
Facing West Carroll sophomore Ethen Doty in a rematch of last week’s Class 1A Byron Sectional final, Johnson went down in pain just 27 seconds into the match with an injured shoulder. After being attended to by the trainers, he was unable to continue to give Doty his first state title.
Something didn’t quite sit well with Glenbard North 182-pound senior Abe Assad after the returning state champion was upset in last week’s Conant Sectional final.
After the returning state champion lost to Maine South’s Jon Halverson, Assad extracted revenge in Saturday’s Class 3A 182-pound state title match as he defeated Halverson by fall at 1:54.
“It feels amazing and better than the first one for sure,” said Assad, who extended Glenbard North’s individual state title streak to 13 years. “I knew I had to change some things in my offense to win this. I changed the way I was setting up my attacks. I was diving in a lot and not really setting them up correctly, and it showed. It really helped.”
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The defeat to Halverson ended a nearly two-year high school undefeated streak, which made Saturday’s second state title even better.
“When I walked off the mat (at the sectional), I knew that he wasn’t a better wrestler than me,” said Assad, who’s ranked No. 3 in the nation. “I think the whole country knew if they watched that match that he wasn’t the better wrestler. He just had the match of his life and I had a bad match, but it happens. Credit to him, but I won when it counts.”
After the win, Assad body slammed his coach to the mat in celebration.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
After Coal City was moved from Class 1A to Class 2A this season, some questioned whether it could compete against the bigger schools.
The Coalers proved the doubters wrong Saturday.
In its first season in 2A, Coal City 132-pound senior Alex Friddle and 182-pound junior Daniel Jezik each won a state title, while the Coalers also had a third-place finisher.
“Coming home with two champions in 2A? It’s great,” Friddle said. “Coming up from 1A to 2A, really, that’s kind of unheard of. You don’t really see that much success, so it’s awesome.”
After Friddle was a three-time state placer in 1A – including a state runner-up finish last year – he won his first state title Saturday in 2A and finished a perfect 49-0.
Following his win, he sprinted around the arena floor, up the stairs and ducked under a security guard en route to greet his awaiting family.
“Words can’t describe what I feel and what a state championship means to a kid who constantly puts in the effort and the work,” Friddle said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t happen, so to finally have that happen… I don’t know what to say or feel right now. It’s just unbelievable.”
Still working his way back from an injury, Jezik – who was also a 1A runner-up last year – claimed his first state title and finished a perfect 24-0.
“It’s a great transition,” Jezik said. “Last year, we didn’t have any (champions in 1A), so this year having two and a third-place finisher says a lot about the determination of our program. It doesn’t matter what class were in, we’ll get it done.”
REACHING THE CENTURY MARK
How does 100-0 and two state champions sound?
To Prairie Central, it sounds like 160-pound sophomore Logan Deacetis and 195-pound sophomore Brandon Hoselton as each won Class 1A state titles on Saturday.
“It’s great because it’ll give us the motivation next year to have a friendly competition,” Deacetis said. “It pushes us both to do the best we can.”
Deacetis finished 51-0 at 160 pounds, while Hoselton ended 49-0 at 195 pounds and won his second straight 1A state title.
“He gives me a hard time all the time,” Hoselton said. “He says, ‘I have more wins,’ but I have more team points.”
NO NEED TO WEIGHT
Something was different this season with Washington senior Jace Punke.
After the Panthers’ star won a Class 2A 285-pound state title last year, the University of Missouri recruit repeated as state champion Saturday but dropped two weight classes to win the 2A 195-pound state title.
Punke said he won last year’s 285-pound state title at 233 pounds and got up to 244 pounds for football but lost nearly 50 pounds for wrestling.
“I was on the line in football, so I needed to bulk a little, but after that we knew I really had to start dieting,” Punke said. “I never ran once, but I stayed healthy and lifted every day.”
It was the first time a returning state champion has ever dropped in weight class to win a second state title.
It was also the fourth state title for the Punke family as Jace joined his brother, Dack, as a two-time state champion.
“I don’t think of it as I have two state titles so I’m better than my two other brothers,” Jace said “I think of it as we won them both a state title.”
HANDLING THE PRESSURE
Peter Christensen didn’t mind the pressure.
As the highest-ranked national wrestler at the state tournament, the 195-pound Montini senior rolled through the field to claim his second straight state title.
“It feels great and it feels amazing,” Christensen said. “It’s truly great how you put in so much work and at the end you get what you want.”
The University of Wisconsin recruit is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 195 by FloWrestling and No. 2 in the nation by InterMat.
“There’s pressure – a lot of pressure – being ranked so high, but pressure is fun,” Christensen said. “I like the pressure and handling it.”
A MAJOR MOMENT
During last year’s state tournament, Freeport senior Major Dedmond was injured in his state semifinal and injury defaulted to sixth place.
On Saturday, he made up for it.
Facing returning state champion and No. 5 nationally ranked Alex Cramer of Grayslake Central, Dedmond scored the match-winning escape with seconds left to win his first state title.
“In my semifinal match (Friday), I wrestled on Mat 2 and I was thinking, ‘Last year, I got hurt in this same spot,’” Dedmond said. “This year, I just wanted to turn it on, and that’s what I did in my semifinal match.”
The last-second, match-winning escape erupted the crowd and got everyone talking.
“The whole arena erupted, and it was a great moment,” Dedmond said. “I felt like all the work I put in through all these years paid off.”
The night started with a bang for Heyworth.
In the night’s first two matches, Heyworth won the first two state titles in program history as 113-pound junior Levi Neuleib and 120-pound junior Gabe Spencer each captured 1A state titles.
Neuleib may have won the night when he celebrated by SuperMan jumping into his coach’s arms.
The Hornets nearly left with three champions, but 138-pound junior Andrew Sims lost in his title match.
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