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    Illinois wins home opener over NIU

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- No. 18 Illinois wrestling won its home opener, 22-15, over Northern Illinois on Friday at Huff Hall. Redshirt freshman Justin Cardani (125), redshirt junior Dylan Duncan (141), redshirt senior Joey Gunther (174) and redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel (184) led the way with victories in their weight-class bouts.

    "Very uninspired for the most part," said head coach Jim Heffernan. "(Justin) Cardani got us off to a good start and reversed an early-season loss. (Luke) Luffman's effort was great. We expected things to happen rather than making things happen. Stood around a lot. We have shown a lot of inconsistency and that needs to change, even though it's a pretty young group."

    Redshirt freshman No. 24 Justin Cardani led off tonight for the Illini against No. 23 Bryce West in the 125-pound bout. Cardani was looking to avenge the 1-0 loss he had against West at the MSU Open back on November 2. Cardani capitalized in the first period, recording two takedowns to jump out to a 4-1 lead. He never looked back, and Cardani would go on to defeat West by decision, 5-2, to put the Illini up 3-0 over the Huskies.

    After a forfeit by NIU at 133 pounds, redshirt junior Dylan Duncan took the mat for Illinois in the 141-pound bout against Nathan Swartz. Duncan had a takedown in the first period, and then had Swartz on the ropes with four-point near fall, increasing his lead to 6-0. Duncan turned Swartz onto his back and got the fall time at 2:20 to put Illinois up 15-0 over NIU.

    After Northern Illinois cut the Illinois advantage to 15-9, redshirt senior Joey Gunther got the Illini back on track in his matchup against Kenny Moore. Gunther was strong defensively, not letting Moore escape during a scoreless second period. Gunther escaped quickly in the third, and would earn the riding time point, giving him a 2-0 decision victory. This put the Illini ahead of the Huskies by a score of 18-10.

    In the next bout at 184-pounds, redshirt freshman Zac Braunagel took total control in his matchup against Caden McWhirter. Braunagel tallied eight takedowns throughout the bout, with four coming in the third period. The eight takedowns would lead Braunagel to a 18-7 major decision over McWhirter.

    After their third consecutive dual win, the Illini will now spend the next few weeks preparing for the 57th Annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships. The tournament, hosted by Northwestern, will be on Sunday, December 29 and Monday, December 30 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

    125: Justin Cardani (ILL) dec. Bryce West (NIU), 5-2, ILL 3, NIU 0
    133: Travis Piotrowski (ILL) MFF Caleb Meekins (NIU), ILL 9, NIU 0
    141: Dylan Duncan (ILL) Fall Nathan Swartz (NIU), 2:20, ILL 15, NIU 0
    149: McCoy Kent (NIU) dec. Mousa Jodeh (ILL), 7-1, ILL 15, NIU 3
    157: Mason Kauffman (NIU) dec. Eric Barone (ILL), 3-2, ILL 15, NIU 6
    165: Izzak Olejnik (NIU) dec. Danny Braunagel (ILL), 7-5, ILL 15, NIU 9
    174: Joey Gunther (ILL) dec. Kenny Moore (NIU), 2-0, ILL 18, NIU 9
    184: Zac Braunagel (ILL) major dec. Caden McWhirter (NIU), 18-7, ILL 22, NIU 9
    197: Gage Braun (NIU) dec. Matt Wroblewski (ILL), 9-5, ILL 22, NIU 12
    285: Max Ihry (NIU) dec. Luke Luffman (ILL), 7-4, ILL 22, NIU 15

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