Jake DiBenedetto, senior lead Illini wrestling through challenging year

Senior+Jake+DiBenedetto+squares+up+with+his+opponent+during+competition.

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Senior Jake DiBenedetto squares up with his opponent during competition.

By Isaac Heppner, Contributing Writer

The Illini men’s wrestling team lost six key seniors from last year’s roster. With many new freshmen joining the team, seniors are taking it upon themselves to lead the team despite the COVID obstacles facing them.

“We have to be on top of everything,” senior Jake DiBenedetto said. “We split the team into two different practices with the older guys and the younger guys. We gotta lead in our practice and they gotta lead in their practice and also be willing to help them.”

In hard times like the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be a leader on this team. New members of the team are experiencing college athletics in an odd situation. DiBenedetto believes it is important to be a role model for the younger guys.

“This year more than ever we need to lead by example,” DiBenedetto said. “Whether it is being on time or not missing class and making sure your grades are in order, but also in the room, be willing to help the younger guys and they can come to us and ask us for help or compete against us.”

While COVID-19 restrictions restrict the team from holding normal practices, DiBenedetto and the rest of the seniors have adapted to the changes very quickly. Though the team has had to face setbacks, they have mostly settled into it.

“We kinda eased into it in the fall,” DiBenedetto said. “We gotta take a lot of precautions and get tested every other day. We’ve been able to lift 3-4 times a week and wrestle 3-4 times a week.”

Although the pandemic has caused different circumstances at practice, DiBenedetto is not questioning the chemistry of the team. The team chemistry has been the same as it’s always been.

With the season coming up, DiBenedetto doesn’t only want a championship, but he wants to be a part of something bigger than himself. He wants to motivate the younger athletes and get everyone on the same page.

“I want to get everyone on the same path,” DiBenedetto said. “Hopefully the guys around me just see what I’m doing and want to try and do it themselves and do the best they can. You’re with your best friends, making connections for the rest of your life with awesome coaches in an awesome organization and make people realize this is a special thing to be a part of.”

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