Two Big Ten undefeateds to battle

By Ryan Dixon

Two more wins. If Illinois wrestler Jimmy Kennedy can sweep a pair of matches this weekend, he will finish the season undefeated in Big Ten duals.

For Kennedy (133 pounds), this weekend will be no walk in the park for the seventh-ranked sophomore. After grappling Purdue’s Sean Schmaltz on Friday, Kennedy’s test on Sunday will feature Iowa’s No. 3 Joe Slaton – also undefeated in the Big Ten.

“You better wrestle a full seven minutes because (Kennedy’s) nonstop, great pressure, good scoring,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “He’s good at everything he does. He’s just hot right now, at the right time of the year.”

Kennedy boasts a nine-match winning steak, six of which have come in Big Ten play, and attributes his success to the coaching he’s received from assistants Carl Perry and Jeremy Hunter.

No. 11 Illinois (12-3, 4-2 Big Ten) finishes its Big Ten season at Huff Hall this weekend against Purdue and Iowa – the No. 1 team in the country. The team is anticipating large crowds this weekend, which could provide an extra boost for the Orange and Blue.

“The last few weeks I noticed refs are kind of going by what the crowd’s saying,” Kennedy said. “In Minnesota they called Patrick (Bond) for grabbing another guy’s head gear because the crowd was cheering that.”

For Gabe Flores, the lone senior starter for the Illini, the crowd will carry a slightly different meaning. As Flores wrestles for the final time at Huff on Sunday, his mother, Patricia, will see him compete in an Illini uniform for the first time.

“Since the Big Ten season started, I’ve been thinking about this match,” Flores said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want it to end, but you know it’s going to come sooner or later. I got my mom to finally come out. She’s coming out for the last match of the season, and I think it can’t get any better than the No. 1-ranked team in the country in Iowa.”

Johnson had nothing but nice things to say about his senior leader.

“Gabe Flores is one of the very extremely social kids – very likeable young man,” the coach said. “You can’t help but like Gabe Flores. He puts a smile on your face. He manages to keep things positive all the time. He’s just one of the kids that’s fun to be around.”

Flores is ranked eighth at 125 pounds, but will have his hands full in his match against No. 2 Charlie Falck of Iowa.

While the Boilermakers (10-6, 2-4) will throw only two top-20 wrestlers at Illinois, the Hawkeyes (20-1, 7-0) will stroll into Champaign with nine, including five at No. 1, 2 or 3.

Freshman Grant Paswall faces the challenge of two ranked opponents this weekend. Paswall will grapple Purdue’s No. 10 Jake Patacsil on Friday, followed by Brent Metcalf, the nation’s No. 1 at 149 pounds, on Sunday.

“That weight class of (Paswall’s is) blistering tough in the Big Ten,” Johnson said. “You have the top guys in the country all in the Big Ten, and it’s one of the things as a freshman you have to just compete one match at a time.”

Recent history is on the Illini’s side as Johnson owns a nine-match win streak against Purdue. Illinois has also emerged victorious in its last two duals against Iowa.

“It’s really important to go out and show people we belong up there with Iowa and Oklahoma State and Iowa State and all of those other programs,” Flores said.