Urbana wrestling's Luffman out with an injury

Urbana wrestling's Luffman out with an injury

URBANA — Luke Luffman was having a banner 2017. The Urbana standout captured a Class 2A 220-pound state championship in February before wrestling at July's Cadet/Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., and verbally committing to Jim Heffernan's Illinois program in August.

The Tiger junior has hit a roadblock, though. Urbana coach Chuck Tabaris said Tuesday that Luffman is dealing with "a small injury," though he declined to identify what specifically ails Luffman. Tabaris said he expects Luffman to return "by January, at the latest."

It's a sizable blow to a youthful Tiger roster that includes roughly 25 wrestlers. But it's not a group devoid of talent, as Luffman's absence opens the door for senior 182-pounder A.J. Fox to lead the charge.

Fox placed sixth at that class in last season's 2A state finals. Tabaris said the Urbana football and track star has made strides as a technician, versus using only his brute strength and aggression to overpower opponents.

"He's starting to think about the sport a lot more, which is going to make him more dangerous on the mat," Tabaris said.

The presence of Fox — and Luffman, prior to his injury — at the Tigers' practices is a benefit, Tabaris said, because it allows the Urbana staff to preach a mantra for success.

"One of the things I've stressed with the kids is, 'You're doing the same workouts as a state placer is doing, as a state champion is doing,'" Tabaris said. "We do call it out quite a bit as a motivating factor."

In addition to Fox and a healthy Luffman, Tabaris said he expects big contributions from senior 113-/120-pounder Nate Cundiff, 145-pound sophomore Elijah Rogers and 152-pound senior Polycarp Amosun.

And more success could follow if the Tigers stay the course.

"I think if we adopt the right mind-set, we stay focused in the room, we shut out all the other distractions, we could definitely see some high-placing finishes in regionals and sectionals, and even the state tournament," Tabaris said.

With another grappling season is underway in East Central Illinois, here are two more storylines involving area squads:

Solid trio paces St. Joseph-Ogden

Losing Class 1A 182-pound state champion Griffin Meeker to graduation was always going to be a difficult blow.

But St. Joseph-Ogden, under the direction of coach Richard Vetter, may have the pieces to be an even better team during the 2017-18 season.

Back are senior Jason Bowman, a state qualifier last season at 170 pounds, as well as junior Jake Wendling and sophomore Austin McConaha, who were sectional advancers at 106 and 113, respectively.

They'll be joined by freshmen Peyton Holt, Isaiah Immke and AJ Wagner, a trio that already has experienced state success at the IESA level. And on top of that are juniors Dwight Colvin and Cole Zaccarelli, Spartan football standouts in their first season with the SJ-O wrestling program.

But Vetter isn't jumping to conclusions just yet.

"I think it's a little early for expectations," he said. "Although we have (several) solid guys in our lineup, which is more than we had last year, and last year we were just under .500."

Surrounding his more experienced crew is a bevy of grapplers in their first year on the mat. Finding a balance between those two groups, Vetter said, will be important as SJ-O tries to shake out its regular lineup.

"We work very hard, especially early in the year, to make sure everybody is on the same page," he said. "They work together a lot in our technique and our drilling because (the newcomers) need a lot of extra attention, and the coaches can only be in so many places."

Vetter is hopeful he can couple a steady group of proven talent, among whom he also counts 106-pound freshman AJ Wagner, with the first-year athletes. From there, the sky may be the limit for the Spartans.

"If we wrestle like we're capable of, and like some of these guys have the potential (to)," Vetter said, "I believe we can send more than three to state."

Cardani shows way for Chargers

Anyone who thought Centennial's Justin Cardani would rest on his laurels after winning a Class 2A 106-pound state championship last season was dead wrong.

Between his junior and senior years with the Chargers, Cardani was constantly grappling. He helped Team Illinois to top honors in June's Junior Greco-Roman National Championships at Tulsa, Okla., by winning three matches at 106.

That was followed by two All-America showings at 106 pounds in July's Cadet/Junior National Championships at Fargo, N.D. — third in Greco-Roman and seventh in freestyle.

"I don't know if you can call it an offseason because he wrestles almost 12 months out of the year," Centennial coach Ed Mears said. "He's just nonstop training to get bigger and better."

And that means a move up to 113 pounds for Cardani's final prep season.

Mears said the leap from 106 to 113 is among the most difficult in the entire weight bracket, but he also believes it's something that won't slow down the University of Illinois signee.

"I think he's grown into that weight class very well over the summer," Mears said. "I think it's a challenge that he wants to take on."

Of course, Cardani is not the entire Centennial roster.

Though 170-pound state participant Jeremiah Risinger has graduated, along with sectional competitors Jay Terry, Andre Gordon and Gavin Goddard, the Chargers return sectional qualifiers in sophomore Roger Edwards, junior Cam Nesbitt and senior Nic Langenfeld.

Edwards and Nesbitt both face a steep climb in weight, as the former is jumping from 113 pounds to 132 and the latter has moved from 145 to 160.

Mears said he expects the quartet of Cardani, Edwards, Nesbitt and Langenfeld to guide a 25-member squad filled with youth, which includes promising freshmen like Cam McMullen, Danny Lack and Lance Russell, among others.

"A lot of the kids are just going to need to keep working and keep focused on what's going to make them better down the road," Mears said. "If you can keep freshmen going and get a lot of varsity matches their freshmen year ... they're just going to keep getting better."