Wrestlers set for Big Tens

By Mike Theodore

After recording a 7-1 dual-meet record in the two-month Big Ten season, the Illini wrestling team will travel to East Lansing, Mich., this weekend for the Big Ten Championships.

Illinois finished in second place in the Big Ten season behind undefeated and nationally top-ranked Minnesota.

“We’ve done a lot of good things this year, and we just have to build on that,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “The guys are ready. We’re all ready to go.”

The conference regular-season results are used to determine seeding this weekend for the ten individual weight classes.

The individual results will then be used to crown a team champion. Last season the Gophers took first place after four Minnesota grapplers placed first in their respective weight classes.

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This season, Coach J Robinson’s Gophers have a tournament high four wrestlers seeded No. 1 in their weight classes.

In the 157-pound weight class, though, the Illini’s Mike Poeta is the top seed. Poeta is undefeated on the year but has not wrestled since Feb. 4, when he defeated C.P. Schlatter of Minnesota. Poeta finished third in last year’s championships.

Poeta will be flanked by nine teammates, including second-seeded freshman Jimmy Kennedy (133), fifth-seeded Gabe Flores (125) and fourth-seeded All-American Cassio Pero (141).

“I’m excited it is my last Big Ten tournament. I want to perform well and go win the hardware,” Pero said.

“I think the team is going to do surprisingly well. I honestly believe we have a great chance at winning the whole tournament if we all wrestle well and just do what we’ve been doing all year, which is wrestling hard for seven minutes,” he added.

Flores, who finished the regular season 18-4, echoed Pero’s confidence.

“We’ve been training all year for this. Everything else was practice,” Flores said. “I, like Mike (Poeta) and everybody else, expect to win it.”

The Illini will be back at full strength with Poeta and Troy Tirapelle (149) returning to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 28.

Illinois used replacements Dan Zeman and Clint Arlis to fill the gap until the two returned to health.

“I think this has been a really good year,” Johnson said. “Individuals step up each week, and because of that we’re sitting where we are and feeling pretty confident going into this weekend.”