Wrestling Illini destroy Tar Heels in dual meet

By Mike Theodore Staff Writer

The 16th-ranked Illini wrestlers finished their non-conference season in grand fashion last Saturday by clobbering North Carolina 32-3 and beating Maryland 26-10 in a three-team dual match in College Park, Md.

The Illini started quickly against the Tar Heels, winning the first nine matches of the dual, with the lone loss a 6-4 decision in the heavyweight class by ninth-ranked Spencer Nadolsky against the Illini’s John Wise.

“We were tough this weekend,” head coach Mark Johnson said.

Mike Poeta dominated in his first competition as the country’s top ranked wrestler in the 157-pound weight class. Poeta scored a major decision against Ben Fiacco and tallied four takedowns.

Freshman Jimmy Kennedy (133) rode his way to victory against eighth-ranked Evan Sola, the Tar Heels’ lone returning All-American.

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After three scoreless rounds, a point and the victory were awarded to Kennedy because he amassed more than two minutes of riding time.

The Illini finished their successful day of wrestling by winning seven of the 10 matches against the Terrapins. Poeta earned the Illini six points by pinning Mike McGill.

The win kept Poeta undefeated on the season. Johnson said he expected Maryland to be a good challenge for his team, saying there were three or four matches won by Illini wrestlers that he thought could go either way.

Saturday’s action was Illinois’ first competition since last month’s Midlands Tournament.

The Illini entered the 56-team tournament as three-time defending champions but finished sixth and failed to join Iowa as the only school to win the tournament four straight years.

Five teams ranked in the top fifteen in the nation competed, with sixth-ranked Iowa State winning the tournament with a 154.5 team score.

Poeta upset top-ranked Iowa State’s Trent Paulson 9-8 in the championship match, earning the Illini’s lone first place finish. Following the match, Poeta was awarded the Dan Gable Most Outstanding Wrestler Award.

“I felt unbeatable all tournament,” Poeta said. “However, it’s one of those matches where you get your hand raised but your head is down. I wasn’t happy with the way I finished, and I know that there’s a lot more I need to work on to get better.”