The Daily Illini

Nepomnyaschiy provides insight on life, wrestling in Russia

By Jared Farmer, Staff writer

About 300 miles south of Moscow, Russia, and 200 miles to the east of Ukraine is the city Voronezh.

It’s a large city, sporting about 1 million residents, and is the westernmost city in the entire country. It contains a large number of museums, libraries, theaters and many other amenities that accompany urban life. It isn’t as large as cities like Chicago, New York or Moscow, but it is a pretty decently-sized city in its own right. It’s also the former home of Nikita Nepomnyaschiy, a freshman here on campus currently redshirting for the Illinois wrestling team.

“I remember it being different there than it is here,” Nepomnyaschiy said. “Everyone just kind of lived in their own bubble, and weren’t necessarily exposed to the outside world. It’s really just a part of the culture there, so (there) isn’t really anything you can do about it. I still miss it there though because that’s where I grew up, and I still have family that lives there.”

Nepomnyaschiy moved to Lincolnshire, Illinois, with his stepdad when he was 12 years old. While he spoke little-to-no English early on, Nepomnyaschiy would soon begin to adjust to life in the United States.

“It was a bit of a cultural shock when I first came here,” Nepomnyaschiy said. “In Russia it’s not as diverse. If you go to school there, everyone is Russian, so you don’t really get exposed to the diversity of people’s (cultures). I thought it was awesome seeing all of the different types (of) cultures being able to exist in the same country.”

By eighth grade year, Nepomnyaschiy had fully adjusted to life in America and had a group of friends. Most of those friends were also wrestlers, and encouraged Nepomnyaschiy to try the sport out for himself.

“It’s kind of a funny story actually,” Nepomnyaschiy said. “I actually won my first match, and we had a dual meet a couple days later that I would compete in. I was afraid of losing, so I wanted to actually quit. I purposefully didn’t bring my shoes to that meet because I wanted to tell my coach that I quit. But when I went up to him, I only told him that I didn’t have my shoes, so then he told me to just wrestle in my socks! If I (had) told him I quit that day, I couldn’t even imagine how different things would be now.”

Throughout his wrestling career at Stevenson High School, Nepomnyaschiy would return to Russia each summer to attend a wrestling training camp back in his hometown.

“I went to camp back in Russia to be able to see my family, but I also wanted to keep wrestling involved in my life,” Nepomnyaschiy said. “People take a different approach to wrestling there. It’s a lot more relaxed and less strict, and it allows people to have more fun with wrestling. Outside of that, training over there is pretty similar to how it is here.”

At the camp, Nepomnyaschiy was actually being coached by  Mike Poeta, who is in his first year here as well as an assistant on the Illini wrestling coaching staff. Poeta’s coaching ended up being a major influence in Nepomnyaschiy’s decision to commit to Illinois.

“He was my coach for every preseason and offseason, so we built a relationship.” Nepomnyaschiy said. “I truly believe he’s one of the best coaches in the nation. It’s nice having him here because it’s made the transition as a student-athlete easier for me.”

Nepomnyaschiy is currently rehabbing from a torn labrum and isn’t expected to start doing drills again by March. He will make his return to mat in April.

“I tend to set my goals high,” said Nepomnyaschiy. “I want to win the Big Ten and NCAA Titles, and I feel being here is going to help me achieve these goals.”

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