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The ILLINI ILLINOISMatmen Open Preview

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  • The ILLINI ILLINOISMatmen Open Preview

    reposted from


    WHAT: ILLINOISMatmen Open Tournament
    WHEN: Wednesday, December 29, beginning at 9:00 (Central)
    WHERE: NOW Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Pkwy, Hoffman Estates, ILLINOIS
    WHO: See List Below
    TV/STREAMING: Rokfin through the ILLINOISMatmen channel to provide the stream



    The ILLINI have a long tradition of success at Midlands. The Orange and Blue finished in third place in 2019 without Mikey Carr in the lineup by putting half of the team in third-place matches. Before that, in 2014, the ILLINI finished second. Here is our Preview of that 2019 Midlands on I will post more about ILLINI history at this prestigious tournament in the days leading up to the first whistle.

    As you recall, Covid stole the Midlands from us last season. Covid tried to steal this year's edition, but ILLINOISMatmen stepped up to provide a platform. Note that some of the teams have changed, and the starting time is now 9:00 am Central and not 9:30 am Central.

    Will this tournament be called "The Midlands" in the future? Will team and individual winners have asterisks by their names? Or will they simply be known as ILLINOISMatmen Open tournament winners?


    Yes. Of course we will. You can look forward to much jocularity at their expense. Some of it may actually be funny! Stay tuned. We might also make fun of Stupid Northwestern if we have time.

    So, why not start now!



    Fans of the Orange and Blue await answers to some key and interesting questions about thisseason. For example, when will Dylan Duncan and Mike Carr enter the lineup? Additionally, there is still some question about the starter for the ILLINI at 174. At the triangular with Chattanooga and SIUE, DJ Shannon manned the starting spot, but Trey Sizemore won an extra match.
    Then there's the question about Zac Braunagel's recovery from surgery. The early returns are very positive, as he beat his SIUE foe and a very good opponent from Chattanooga last week. A new question was added at that time, though, as Matt Wroblewski attended the Triangular in street clothes. How's he doing?

    Finally, can the ILLINI find points in their lineup to replace 2019 Midland's scoring from Travis Piotrowski (3rd), Joey Gunther (3rd) and Eric Barone? Lucas Byrd can take over for Pio, but what about 157 and 174?


    This is basically another one of those ILLINI Questions, but it deserves its own subheading. In 2019, the ILLINI took Lucas Byrd, We Rachal, Johnny Mologousis, David Riojas, DJ Shannon, Trey Sizemore and Nikita Nepomnyashchiy. Including starters, that makes a full busload of 17 wrestlers. It appears that Hef's strategy was to reward veterans who had been spot starters or who were fighting for starting positions and also get a look at promising redshirt Freshmen. Will Coach Poeta take the same tack?


    The ILLINI, Wisconsin, Purdue, Pitt, Northern ILLINOIS, SIUE (partial squad), Northern Iowa, Army, Cal Poly, Campbell, Indiana, Princeton, Bloomsburg, Brown, Bucknell, Franklin & Marshall, Harvard, Michigan (partial squad), North Carolina (partial squad), Oregon State (partial squad--IMAR will wrestle every weight above 165, and his tattoo will wrestle every weight below 165), Penn, Rider (partial squad), and Virginia (partial squad).


    With the cancellation of the original Midlands, there have been some teams that have opted for the Hawkeye Open, another pop-up tournament to fill in the vacancy left by the Midlands. Other teams don't appear to have picked a side yet, or they will just fatten up over the holidays. Here are some of the teams that were scheduled to compete at Midlands but are not in the ILLINOISMatmen Open: Iowa, Stupid Northwestern, Edinboro, Ohio, Central Michigan, and there's no word on the non-D1 schools such as Chicago, North Central and Dubuque.


    The list of individuals is actually much longer. I've limited it here to those wrestlers who are at or around the #50 ranking by

    125. JUSTIN CARDANI (5-2). Pat Glory (Princeton), Devin Schroder (Purdue), Eric Barnett (Wisconsin), Dylan Shawver (Rutgers), Brody Teske (Northern Iowa), Ryan Miller (Penn), Beau Bayless (Harvard), Jacob Moran (Indiana), Antonio Lorenzo (Cal Poly).

    This will be a solid bracket, even though Pat Glory and Spencer Lee keep missing each other, like star-crossed lovers in a bad Japanese anime. Making the semifinals here could be a nice early-season proxy for finishing as an All American.

    133. LUCAS BYRD (6-1). Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers), Micky Phillippi (Pitt), Michael Colaiocco (Penn), Brian Courtney (Virginia), Matt Ramos (Purdue), Brock Hudkins (Indiana), Kyle Burwick (Wisconsin), Kyle Biscoglia (Northern Iowa).

    The list of Top 50 wrestlers is slightly shorter at 133 than at 125, but the quality through the first four (including Lucas Byrd) is crazy good. We could see a rematch of last year's NCAA blood round between Byrd and Phillippi. Sammy Alvarez is back in the Rutgers lineup, although how he makes 133 is a mystery. If you make the finals in this bracket, you deserve immediate AA status!

    141. WE RACHAL (4-6); MIKE CARR (0-0); DANNY PUCINO (5-2). Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers), Cole Matthews (Pitt), Cael Happel (Northern Iowa), Dylan Cedeno (Virginia), Parker Filius (Purdue), Joseph Zargo (Wisconsin), Corey Shie (Army), Saul Ervin (SIUE), Justin Bierdumpfel (Brown), Wil Gil (Franklin & Marshall), Shannon Hanna (Campbell), Darren Miller (Bucknell), Cayden Rooks (Indiana).

    This is another nice list of great wrestlers. I'm not even sure if Carr or Duncan or Rachal or Pucino will wrestle at this weight, but it's going to be crazy! Near the bottom of the list is Darren Miller from Bucknell, for example, who has a 6-0 record this year and who qualified for the NCAA tournament last year, losing to Lucas Byrd in the first round.

    I have to say that Justin Bierdumpfel is now my favorite NCAA name. That sounds like the ending of my old Friday nights: Beer. Dump. Fell.

    149. CHRISTIAN KANZLER (5-2); DYLAN DUNCAN (0-0). Austin Gomez (Wisconsin), Josh Heil (Campbell), PJ Ogunsanya (Army), Mike Van Brill (Rutgers), Anthony Artalona (Penn), Legend Lamer (Cal Poly), Jarod Verkleeren (Virginia), Kolby DePron (Bucknell), Tristan Lara (Northern Iowa), Graham Rooks (Indiana).

    I would love to see Mikey Carr beat Yahya Thomas and Max Murin again, or enjoy Dylan Duncan taking them on, but that will not happen here. Mike Van Brill is still spelling his own name wrong. There's an ILLINOIS flavor here with Kanzler, Duncan, Alex Villar (Plainfield, if his non-DI team shows up), Gomez (Glenbard North), and I'm sure I'm missing somebody.

    157. JOE ROBERTS (7-5). Quincy Monday (Princeton), Kendall Coleman (Purdue), Doug Zapf (Penn), Markus Hartman (Army), Robert Kanniard (Rutgers), Elijah Cleary (Pitt), Garrett Model (Wisconsin).

    In 2019, Eric Barone won two matches to help the ILLINI reach the podium as a team. This is going to be a strong bracket to test Joe Roberts. I hope he gets a match with Kanniard, Cleary or Model to judge the Freshman's progress.

    165. DANNY BRAUNAGEL (5-2). Evan Wick (Cal Poly), Jake Wentzel (Pitt), Zach Hartman (Bucknell), Phillip Conigliaro (Harvard), Izzak Olejnik (NIU), Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin), Justin McCoy (Virginia), Lucas Revano (Penn), Dalton Harkins (Army), Cardeionte Wilson (SIUE), Austin Yant (Northern Iowa), Grant Cuomo (Princeton).

    This could be the strongest bracket in the tournament. There will be good matches in the quarters, and the semis should be explosive! Note that Cardeionte Wilson forfeited to the Brawlnagel last week. Is he injured? I want to see the ILLINI completely healthy and back to beating NIU's Izzak Olejnik.

    174. DJ SHANNON (4-2); TREY SIZEMORE (1-2). Mark Hall (unattached), Andrew McNally (Wisconsin), Nick Incontrera (Penn), Gerrit Nijenhuis (Purdue), Austin Murphy (Campbell), Joshua Kim (Harvard), Jaden Fisher (Bucknell), Adam Kemp (Cal Poly), Mason Kauffman (NIU), Pat Schoenfelder (Northern Iowa).

    This went from one of the weakest brackets in Midlands to one of the strongest brackets at the ILLINOISMatmen Open. We'll get a look at Wisky's transfer from Kent State, Andrew McNally, who is a three-time NCAA qualifier and one time blood-round reacher. The "scoring wrestler" for the ILLINI should rack up some points here for the Orange and Blue. Can they match Gunther's third-place finish at the 2019 Midlands?

    184. ZAC BRAUNAGEL (2-0). Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa), John Poznanski (Rutgers), Brit Wilson (NIU), Bernie Truax (Cal Poly), Donnell Washington (Indiana), Max Lyon (Purdue), Travis Stefanik (Princeton), Chris Weiler (Wisconsin), Michael Battista (Virginia), Caleb Hopkins (Campbell), Logan Deacetis (Bucknell), Cade King (South Dakota), Brad Laughlin (Army).

    This is an even stronger bracket than 174 when you consider only the college wrestlers. Some All Americans and a lot of quality depth. I want to see the Brawlnagel whup Max Lyon and Chris Weiler. Zac Braunagel will also want revenge on Caleb Hopkins from Campbell, who beat him at the NCAA tournament last season. Is IMAR's shoulder healthy enough to wrestle here? You know he's in shape.

    197. MATT WROBLEWSKI (4-2); NIKITA NEPOMNYASHCHIY (1-3). Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt), Greg Bulsak (Rutgers), Thomas Penola (Purdue), Jay Aiello (Virginia), Luke Stout (Princeton), Braxton Amos (Wisconsin), Cole Urbas (Penn), Nick Willham (Indiana), Jack Brown (Army).

    This weight is pretty stacked and pretty solid! Time to see how the new muscly Wrobocop does against this good competition. That will depend, of course, on whether the ILLINI is recovered from whatever kept him out of the triangular against Chattanooga and SIUE. The Rutgers transfer from Clarion, Greg Bulsak, already has 102 career wins and has already qualified for four NCAA tournaments.

    285. LUUUUKE LUFFMAN (6-1). Trent Hilger (Wisconsin), Jack DelGarbino (Princeton), Boone McDermott (Rutgers), Quinn Miller (Virginia), Taye Ghadiali (Campbell), Jacob Slinger (Pitt), Ben Goldin (Penn), Colton McKiernan (SIUE).

    Luuuke is coming off of a dominant win over top fifty Colton McKiernan at last week's triangular. Can he repeat his magic against Trent Hilger? I have one request: Beat Princeton's DelGarbino and then send a tweet to Skinny Tony that reads, "See, that wasn't so hard."


    I see the best challenges for ILLINOIS coming from Rutgers, Wisconsin (if Braxton Amos starts living up to the hype) and Purdue. The dark horse is Cal Poly, which should have two in the finals scoring big points. The darkest of dark horses is Northern Iowa, who will likely have one finalist but some solid placements. The ILLINI finished third the last time there was a Midlands because of a number of big paper upsets. They need to rekindle whatever fire was in their hearts at that tournament. GO ILLINI!!!

  • #2
    I have one more Christmas present for the Iowa haters. Ya'll should be ashamed of yourself picking on a university!




    • #3
      Very short summaries of the first round and the Quarterfinals from an ILLINI perspective. ILLINOIS is in fifth place without Duncan, Carr, Wroblewski and a healthy 174-pounder.

      Second issue: Why all the hate on Iowa?



      • #4
        Recap of the Semis/Third Session is here at

        The recap is screengrab/picture heavy; analysis light.

        Big wins by Cardani and Byrd to get to the Finals!

        Luke Luffman powered his way to the third-place match!

        Zac Brawlnagel used a 3-to-0 takedown advantage to stun All-American Brit Wilson in the Consi-Semifinals.

        GO ILLINI!!!


        • #5
          Final thoughts about the Matmen Open and the Edmond Ruth news here.

          Plus, darts!