Wrestlers to compete in Missouri Open

Sophomore wrestler Ryan Prater (right) in his bout against freshman Vince Vercelli (left) at 141 pounds in Huff Hall on Nov. 8. Erica Magda

Sophomore wrestler Ryan Prater (right) in his bout against freshman Vince Vercelli (left) at 141 pounds in Huff Hall on Nov. 8. Erica Magda

By Jay Lee

After an impressive showing out east last weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Clash, the Illinois wrestling team will stay in the Midwest for the Missouri Open on Sunday in Columbia, Mo.

As opposed to the ACC/Big Ten Clash, which consisted of team-based dual matches, the Missouri Open is a collection of individual tournaments, giving the grapplers the opportunity to showcase their individual abilities.

“It’s great to start the season off against stronger Division I programs,” senior Troy Tirapelle said. “But with these individual tournaments, we could be wrestling all day.”

The tournament, a staple in the Illinois schedule since 1998, has historically been favorable to the Illini wrestlers. Last season, four Illini brought home individual titles.

Wrestling in his first Missouri Open will be true freshman Jordan Blanton, who made his debut last week at the ACC/Big Ten Clash.

“I went in not knowing what to expect,” Blanton said after his 3-0 weekend. “I’ve been lucky to have been practicing against some of the best wrestlers in the country.”

For this, Blanton was named the Big Ten’s Co-Wrestler of the Week, sharing the honors with Wisconsin’s Dallas Herbst after a performance head coach Mark Johnson called “dominating.” Blanton became the first true freshman in the history of the program to receive a weekly conference honor.

The team will continue to miss senior Mike Poeta and junior John Dergo, both sidelined with leg injuries. Poeta is a three-time champion at the Missouri Open, and Dergo has two titles under his belt.

The Illini will also be without junior Jimmy Kennedy, another two-time champion. Instead of traveling to Columbia, Mo., with the team, Kennedy will head to Columbus, Ohio, where he has been invited to compete in the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s National All-Star Classic. Some of the nation’s best wrestlers will be present, with No. 4 Kennedy facing off against No. 2 Jayson Ness of Minnesota in the 133-pound weight class.

Last season, Poeta was invited to the NWCA All-Star Classic, where he upset No. 2 Craig Henning of Wisconsin at 157. After the Missouri Open, the team’s schedule takes a break until the team travels to Las Vegas, for the Cliff Keen Invitational on Dec. 5.