Illinois wrestling hopes to avoid a third consecutive loss


Illinois’ Jackson Morse maintains control of his opponent on the mat during the opening match of the season against ISUE at Huff Hall on November 9. The Illini won 44-0.

By Ethan Swanson

After a tough Big Ten road trip last weekend, which featured matches against the top two teams in the nation, Illini grapplers are thankful to be back at home. They Illini face Nebraska Friday at Huff Hall and will stay in the state for a dual meet against Northwestern in Evanston on Sunday.

“It gets loud at places like Iowa and Minnesota, that’s tough to deal with emotionally as an opponent,” 133-pound sophomore Zane Richards said. “It’s a level of pressure you don’t normally get other than at the Big Ten’s and Nationals, but it can mean a whole new match if you have your home crowd behind you.”

When speaking with Illini wrestlers, the common phrase used to describe Big Ten wrestling is “a grind.” In the four days Illinois has spent in Champaign since its meet at Minnesota and for the remainder of conference matches, the mindset of the team is to stay healthy and motivated.

“You’ve just got to take things one step at a time,” Richards said. “Do the right things in your workouts and in the practice room, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Along with explaining the importance of maintaining personal health, senior Jackson Morse expressed the vital nature of staying enthusiastic and focused moving forward, especially after experiencing a heartbreaking 20-19 loss to top-ranked Minnesota.

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“You just have to stay positive, look at what we were able to do well in those matches against two tough teams,” Morse said, “We know how good we are and we have to bring the same intensity as we did with those teams for Nebraska.”

In the meets against Iowa and Minnesota, multiple Illini wrestlers ultimately lost their matches after taking a lead into the final period. The most crucial was Richards’ match against Minnesota’s top-ranked individual Chris Dardanes, in which Richards built a 7-1 lead in regulation but ultimately lost in overtime. Both the coaches and the team acknowledged that they need to fix some aspects of their wrestling, but also noted that although the goal is to win every conference meet, the meets are also learning opportunities for future meets that matter most.

“We have to put together a full seven minutes, we let a couple get away in the third period,” Morse said. “If we can keep our composure, we can turn a bunch of those matches around. We pay attention to the standings and what’s going on outside our own meets, but for the most part, we’re just focused on March.”

Ethan can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter