With each challenge Christian Brunner has faced this season on a wrestling mat, he’s been encouraged by a simple fact: He’s not a freshman anymore.
As a 197-pound sophomore at Purdue University, the Dundee-Crown graduate has posted a 16-5 record and a third-place finish at last week’s Midlands Championships in Hoffman Estates.
“A lot of (the success) has to do with it being my second year,” Brunner said. “I don’t have the learning curve that I did last year. I’ve done it already. I’ve wrestled against some of the best kids in the country. I’ve wrestled at the NCAAs.
“I’m able to just go out there and be comfortable, ready to compete, and have fun.”
Brunner’s season has been loads of fun so far.
He is only eight wins from his freshman total of 24 with eight weeks still remaining in the regular season.
“I’ve just focused on getting 1 percent better every day, not trying to make these giant leaps,” he said.
Last week, the eighth-seeded Brunner posted a 6-1 record at the prestigious Midlands event, which included a 9-5 victory against No. 10 seed Jackson Striggow of Michigan and a 10-6 victory against seventh-seeded Jacob Warner of Iowa. His only loss was a 6-4 championship quarterfinals loss to top-seeded Nate Rotert of South Dakota State.
Rotert is ranked sixth in the nation at 197 by IntermatWrestle.com. In the consolation bracket, Brunner picked up four wins in a row to place third. He won the third-place match against Rotert by a medical forfeit.
Last season, Brunner drew confidence from an 8-3 victory against then-No. 7 Rotert and a 4-1 triumph against No. 11 Ricky Robertson of Wisconsin.
“Those matches really helped me mentally,” Brunner said. “I realized I’m at the same level as those guys. I’m right there with everyone.”
Wrestling in the Big Ten Conference helps Brunner, who was the first Purdue freshman since 2010 to qualify for the national tournament, gain even more confidence.
Ten Big Ten teams are ranked in this week’s USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association Top 25 poll, including Purdue (4-1) at No. 24. Four conference teams are ranked in the top eight.
“It gives you so much more experience,” Brunner said. “When you get to a meet like the NCAAs, it’s nothing new. These are the same type of guys you’re wrestling week in and week out in the Big Ten.”
Brunner placed seventh last season in the Big Ten and is hoping this season to elevate his performance.
“To be on the top of the podium at the end of the line is always the goal,” he said. “I’m just focusing on going out there and letting it rip.”
Titan-ic upset: Jason Gregoire (Cary-Grove) and Zach Knobloch (Marengo) combined for 15 points Wednesday to help D-III Illinois Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team to a 72-53 upset of No. 2-ranked Augustana.
Gregoire, a junior guard, scored eight points for the Titans in his second start of the season. He has played in every game this season for IWU (10-3). A sophomore guard, Knobloch scored seven points off the bench for the Titans, who limited their College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival to 37 percent shooting.
Jacobs grad Chrishawn Orange, a junior guard, scored 14 points for the Vikings (10-2) in defeat.
Gil, Navy make waves: Crystal Lake South grad Nicholas Gil took fifth place this week at 141 pounds in the Southern Scuffle tournament at Chattanooga, Tennessee. The junior was one of five Naval Academy wrestlers to place, helping the team to fourth in the standings, its best team finish in the event since 2004.
Gil was 5-2 over the two-day tournament to improve to 19-4 on the season. His win total leads Navy this season.
Judson’s top shot: Kayla Toussaint (Johnsburg) is averaging a career-high 8.4 points a game and has a team-best 27 3-pointers this season for NAIA Judson University’s women’s basketball team.
A 5-foot-6 senior, Toussaint is the top reserve guard for the Eagles (11-6). She poured in 17 points in a 71-55 victory Dec. 29 against Bethel. Judson is 8-2 in its past 10 games and sits in fourth place in the 14-team Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference with a 5-2 mark.
Pischke powers Lewis: Marian Central grad Adam Pischke scored a season-high 26 points for D-II Lewis University’s men’s basketball team
Dec. 30 in the Flyers’ 89-72 victory against Northwood.
Pischke is averaging 11.6 points and 2.8 assists for Lewis (6-7). He is connecting on 58.3 percent of his 3-point shots this season.
Monmouth monster: Junior defensive end Thomas Lesniewski (Marian Central) earned first-team All-Midwest Conference South Division honors for D-III Monmouth College’s football team. The Scots (9-2) won the league title and advanced to the NCAA playoffs in late November.
Despite missing several games because of injury, Lesniewski had 23 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks for Monmouth.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.