Men kick off regular season at home

By Majesh Abraham

Huff Hall is not the place to be for opponents who are trying to defeat the Illini.

The No. 4 Illini look to continue their winning streak at home, when they take on Augustana and Cumberland in a double dual meet. After All-Star events, and pre-season tournaments, the fans at Huff will finally get to see what this year’s entire squad looks like.

“I’m excited, it’s nice to be back here,” said senior Alex Tirapelle. “It’s been quite a while, and a lot of the returning guys are excited to be back. I’m sure a lot of the new guys wrestling here for the first time will be looking forward to it.”

The team has not lost a home meet for nearly two years, and over that span has won nine consecutive meets. Senior All-American Kyle Ott (125-pounds) will make his regular season debut after sitting out earlier meets to rest his knees.

“I’ve had many knee surgeries in the past,” Ott said. “I don’t participate in the beginning of the year in open tournaments to make sure I don’t get hurt before the season begins. There’s a little bit of jitters because I haven’t competed in a live match yet this season, but I’m excited.”

It will also be a special occasion for another senior All-American, Pete Friedl (185-pounds), who will be wrestling in his 100th career match, as he is sitting on 99 right now. Freidl is following in All-American Tirapelle’s (157-pounds) footsteps, who reached the milestone last weekend at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Both Friedl and Tirapelle will be looking to rebound from losses at Vegas, where they were both defeated in the finals of their individual weight class matches.

Friedl and Tirapelle were both No. 1 seeds for their respective weight classes, and both lost to Big Ten competition in the finals. Friedl, to No. 2 seed Ben Wissel of Purdue, and Tirapelle to No. 6 seed Steve Luke of Michigan.

Augustana (1-1), is currently ranked No. 25 in Division-III. The Illini defeated Augustana 39-0 last year at Augustana. Cumberland is No. 13 in the NAIA rankings.

“We know that they’re not going to challenge us as teams, but we’re looking for the individuals to compete hard,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “There is a lot of things that our guys are juggling this weekend with finals, and that’s why we try to stay at home and just take things as they come.”

The next meet at home will not be until Jan. 20 against Purdue. After this weekend, the Illini head to Evanston, Ill., to defend their second straight Midlands Tournament title, where they will face some of the toughest competition of the season.

“Right now’s not a time where we need to peak as a team in our wrestling,” Ott said. “We have a lot of time to work on things before Big Ten and Nationals, and that’s when we want to peak and get rid of all the mistakes because that’s when things really count.”