Illini looking sharp at Wrestle-Offs

By Jon Gluskin

They’re ranked No. 4 in the nation. They’re the defending Big Ten Champions. They’ve got four returning All-Americans.

On Saturday, the Illini wrestling team gave the Huff Hall fans a glimpse of what is to come this season as they competed in the annual intrasquad wrestle-offs.

The wrestle-offs pit wrestlers at each weight class against one another, helping the team evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, as well as getting the wrestlers some experience.

“To, number one, kind of get a feel for where we’re at, get the guys out in front of people,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “I don’t really like wrestle-offs, but it’s good that they make way, they get out there and wrestle somebody. It’s going to help you for your first competition. That’s why we do it.”

All of the matches went as expected, with All-American seniors Alex Tirapelle (157-lbs) and Pete Friedl (184) and All-American junior Cassio Pero (141) winning their respective matches. The fourth All-American, senior Kyle Ott (125), did not participate due to an injury.

Pero said he does not feel added pressure coming into the season as an All-American.

“I just wrestle within myself,” Pero said. “I do what I can do, and I do the best I can do in it. That’s it.”

A pair of freshman came up victorious in their matches, Joe Gomez (125) and Troy Tirapelle (149), Alex’s younger brother. Sophomore Gabe Flores (133) also won his match.

The other wrestlers who won their matches were juniors Donny Reynolds (174) and Matt Weight (Hwt.), along with senior Tyrone Byrd (197).

“There were some close matches – we expected that,” Johnson said. “There was some good wrestling.

“As far as how we competed, it was one of our better intrasquads since I’ve been here, because a lot of times there will be so much nervous energy to wrestle your teammate that we won’t look very good. This one I think we performed very well.”

The regular season kicks off Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Missouri Open, in Colombia, Mo., and on Sunday, Dec. 11, the Illini will host their first match against Cumberland and Augustana.

Pero said one of the most encouraging things about his team is its mixture of youth, experience and leadership. With this talented group of wrestlers, Pero has high goals and expectations for the upcoming season.

“Always at the highest,” Pero said. “To win a national title, personally, and to win a team title.”