Wrestling prepares to meet two Big Ten teams at home

By Jon Gluskin

The wrestling team has a busy Big Ten weekend ahead as it looks to remain unbeaten in conference.

Huff Hall looks to become the new “House of ‘Paign'” when No. 14 Penn State (8-8, 2-3) comes to Champaign Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 17 Indiana (14-3, 2-2) comes Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Illini will be competing after a convincing 32-6 victory at Purdue last Friday and a 17-17 tie at Michigan on Sunday. The tie dropped the Illini to No. 3 nationally, at 12-1-1 on the season and 3-0-1 in Big Ten competition.

“You’ll just take it a match at a time,” said Illinois head coach Mark Johnson. “If we take care of business, we’ll do well and we’ll win. If we show up – and we’ve been showing up most every match – nothing rattles this team. We have good depth and we have good leadership and we have good experience and we have a mix-in of a little youth and I just think they’re capable of good things.”

One important member of the team who has been contributing all season long is No. 12 Anton Dietzen (149 pounds). He said these matches will help him prepare for what is to come for the remainder of the season.

“I’ve had a tough couple of weeks as far as the caliber of my competition,” Dietzen said. “These guys are tough too, but they should be matches that I can work on stuff – work on my weaknesses.”

Dietzen said in practice he has been working on his mat strategy and wrestling different opponents in different ways.

“I didn’t start wrestling until high school, so I’m a little bit behind everybody else in that sort of thing, I would say,” Dietzen said. “I’m not very good at adjusting my style to meet other people’s.”

Despite this, Dietzen has still struck a number of upsets this season.

“I think it’s just because I worked my butt off this summer,” Dietzen said. “Basically from the time that I decided I was going to cut down weight, I worked out every day this summer. I did extra workouts with the coaches every day last year.

“When I go out before a match, I don’t think about the rank – I think about how I worked my butt off to get here, and I’m not going to let it slip away.”

The Nittany Lions compete with five wrestlers ranked in the Top-20 and the Hoosiers are ranked in the Top-25 for only the first time since 1996 and have five wrestlers ranked in the Top-20.

“I think that Penn State’s kind of always been a wrestling power,” Johnson said. “They’ve dropped off a little bit, but they’re still a good opponent. When we wrestle them it’s always a good, exciting match.

“Scores can be deceiving, just like Iowa (25-7). Those were very close individual matches, but some of the parts kind of made it seem like we just blew them out. We knew that there were some battles inside there; I think Penn State and Indiana can both be like that a little bit.”

Against Penn State, No. 3 Brian Glynn (184) will face No. 5 Eric Bradley for the third time in their careers. They have split the two decisions, with Bradley ousting Glynn earlier in the season at the Midlands 3-2.

The key match to watch in the Indiana dual is No.2 Kyle Ott (125) and No.6 Joe Dubuque. This is the only weight class that has both wrestlers in the Top-10.

The tentative starters for the Illini are Ott, No. 4 Mark Jayne (133), Cassio Pero (141), Dietzen, No. 3 Alex Tirapelle, No. 11 Donny Reynolds (165), No. 4 Pete Friedl (174), Glynn, No. 9 Tyrone Byrd (197) and Mike Behnke (Hwt).

Johnson said he doesn’t think there is added pressure on his team being ranked so high.

“We won the regular season Big Ten season last year,” Johnson said. “People don’t remember that – people remember the Big Ten Individual Championship and the NCAA’s. So we still have got to keep in perspective that they’re dual meets and they’re important, but they’re not as important as the big stuff coming up next month.”

Because of this, Johnson said his team is just going to keep practicing what needs to be practiced in preparation for March.

“It’s the little things that make championships,” Johnson said.