Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Athletics
By JARED BELL
Kyle Langenderfer got exactly what he wanted.
After the 157-pound redshirt junior on the Illinois wrestling team lost twice earlier this season to Rutgers’ John Van Brill, the Lincoln-Way East graduate got the rematch he wanted Thursday.
In the first round of the NCAA Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Langenderfer pushed the pace throughout and used a five-point move in the third period to propel himself to an 11-4 win over the weight’s No. 13 seed.
“That was the one conference guy that I wanted, and I got him,” said Langenderfer, who’s competing in his second career NCAA Championships. “Given that I had two conference losses against him earlier in the year, it was easy to get up for that match.”
Langenderfer (24-8), who finished a disappointing eighth at last weekend’s Big Ten Conference Tournament in Bloomington, Ind., will meet No. 4 seed Nebraska’s Tyler Berger (33-4) in tonight’s second round. The winner will advance to Friday morning’s quarterfinal.
“I’m not seeded, so I know that anybody I have from here on out will most likely be seeded,” said Langenderfer, who expects to have nearly 40 friends and family watch him wrestle in person tonight. “It’s another Big Ten guy to get up for. We’ll do a little study over the break and see what he’s got.”
Against Van Brill, Langenderfer proved his merit.
After a back-and-forth first two periods, Langenderfer – who never trailed in the match – used a reversal with 1:35 left in the third period to take the lead for good, but Van Brill found an escape with 1:21 to go to make it 4-3.
Having already been called for stalling, Langenderfer caught Van Brill in a headlock and took him down on the edge of the mat with 45 seconds remaining. Langenderfer was unable to score the fall but received three points for the five-second near fall to all but seal the win over the seeded opponent.
“If you ask anybody on our team, it wasn’t an upset in anyone’s mind,” Langenderfer said. “Some people may say that a headlock was stupid (at that time), but that’s one of my go-to moves. Especially against a tall guy like that, if you can catch him under the ear you’ll be OK.”
It was the first time Langenderfer – a Mokena native – won a match in the championship bracket at the NCAA Championships aand his second career win at the event.
“It’s definitely nice to have been here before,” Langenderfer said. “I remember two years ago when it was here, it was the biggest wrestling venue I had been to besides maybe the state tournament. It’s overwhelming, for sure. There are a lot of people watching and it can get to your head a bit. It’s important to have been here before, and it’s even more fun once you’re winning.”
Thursday’s win a bit of redemption for Langenderfer, who the No. 5 seed at the Big Ten Championships but struggled to the eighth-place finish following a two-week layoff.
“At Big Tens, I was a shell of myself,” Langenderfer said. “Long year, long Big Ten season and I kind of let the moment get the best of me. I was determined to do better here, and this was a good first win. I needed that one back.”
A two-time state champion, a three-time state finalist, a four-time state medalist and a member of LWE’s 2012 Class 7A state runner-up football team, Langenderfer believes he can win his first NCAA medal after missing last year’s tournament.
“It would mean a lot to medal,” Langenderfer said. “My coach (Tyrone Byrd from Lincoln-Way East) wrestled at the U of I and was on the 2005 Big Ten title team, so we’ve been in the room a lot of hours working. It’d mean a lot to him and for my family, who goes to everything. With all the weight cuts and all my ups and downs, I think it’d mean the world. It’s what I’m shooting for.”
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.