Wrestling pins another to extend winning streak in home-opening contests



By Ryan Dixon

Fighting Illini wrestling extended its home-opener winning streak to 19 on Saturday to capture its first two dual-meet victories of the year.

The Orange and Blue rolled over McKendree 31-9 and defeated Findlay 30-10.

No. 12-ranked Gabe Flores (125 pounds) got the Illini off to a hot start against McKendree, winning his first match by an 11-3 major decision. He also achieved a second-period 23-8 technical fall against Alex Shumaker to get the Illini rolling against Findlay.

“Whenever we start with 125 (pounds) I like to go out there and get the guys motivated,” Flores said. “To start off strong against these guys means a lot.”

The motivation seemed to work as seventh-ranked Jimmy Kennedy (133) dominated his first match 12-3 to give the Illini an early 8-0 lead against McKendree.

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But Kennedy outdid his first bout’s performance by pinning Jeremy Espinoza of Findlay in 20 seconds for his second victory of the weekend. The pin propelled Illinois to an early 11-0 lead against Findlay.

“I wasn’t feeling too well so if the opportunity came to get a pin I was going to take it,” Kennedy said. He added that these early home matches let the team know some of the small things it can fix before the season really gets going.

Even though Kennedy was able to wrestle this weekend, some of the starting Illinois grapplers were unable to compete in the home opener. Coach Mark Johnson said he could not relax because he had to put four starters on the bench.

“With so many starters out, you really don’t know how you’re going to perform,” Johnson said. “So the guys you expect to win have to win and they both did a good job of that.”

The Illini started two freshmen on Saturday, both notching two victories. Freshman Ryan Prater (141) won his McKendree match 6-2 and his Findlay match 12-7. Grant Paswall (149) crushed his opponents from McKendree and Findlay 18-3 and 8-1, respectively.

“I don’t care who you’re wrestling, they both did a good job,” Johnson said. “I’m really pleased with those guys as true freshmen in our lineup doing well.”

The big upset of the day was the Illini’s final match against Findlay. Illinois’ No. 12-ranked John Wise (HWT) was defeated by Travis Clark 3-1 in a sudden victory first overtime period.

Johnson said Wise was not very aggressive and seemed sluggish in the match.

The final combination of competition at Huff Hall on Saturday resulted in McKendree defeating Findlay 25-15.

The Illini will grapple finals until they compete on Dec. 29-30 in Evanston.