The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois wrestling looks to start strong against SIUE, Navy

Courtesy of Illini Athletics/Jenny Butler
Redshirt sophomore Danny Pucino pins his opponent from Purdue on Jan. 14.

Illinois wrestling opens its 2023-24 season with duels against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Thursday and Navy on Saturday, both at home.

The Illini expressed excitement for the opportunity that the new season brings. Illinois’ starter in the 141-pound division, redshirt sophomore Danny Pucino, discussed the team’s attitude leading up to their first duel.

“We’re ready to rock,” Pucino said. “This year we have a lot of young guys that are pretty fired up to be able to compete. Between young and old, we’re all really excited, and it’s different. I think we just have a better mindset going into the season this year.”

Head coach Mike Poeta emphasized to the team the importance of being mentally prepared. The mental preparedness of this year’s Illini is something that could set this squad apart from past years.

“Coach Poeta has us do a lot of meditation work, a lot of visualization and (other) stuff we haven’t really done as much in the past, and I think that’s really going to help us,” Pucino said. “It’s going to help us be relaxed but aggressive at the same time.”

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Visualization is just one of the many things that Illinois wrestling does to prepare for a duel. Poeta puts the team through an extensive physical training cycle in the days leading up to a duel and mental preparation is the last step in readying for a duel.

“We trained really hard and had a really vigorous training cycle,” Pucino said. “Right now, we are tapered, and we’ve done our prep cardiovascularly and technically. Now we’re just getting our minds right to be able to dominate on Thursday night.”

Illinois is undefeated in duels against SIUE in eight meetings between the two schools. Pucino expressed with utmost confidence that Illinois wrestling will keep its undefeated streak alive against SIUE alive on Thursday and begin the season with a 1-0 record.

“Absolutely, we’re going to be 9-0 after Thursday in my opinion, but, you know, SIUE is gonna come in and fight hard,” Pucino said. “So we’ve got to expect that. And if we expect that and wrestle like that, then good things are going to happen.”

Last season, SIUE finished with a 6-8 record overall in duels and lost decisively in its lone match against a Big Ten opponent — a 26-15 defeat at home against Indiana.

Illinois and SIUE competed against two common opponents in the 2022-23 season in Buffalo and Chattanooga. Both the Illini and the Cougars were victorious over the Mocs; however, SIUE was narrowly defeated in their dual against Buffalo 18-16, while Illinois had a big win over Buffalo, winning 28-9.

In the 2022-23 season Navy finished 5-6 overall in duels and narrowly lost its only matchup with a Big Ten opponent 18-15 against No. 23 Maryland.

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Pucino has big aspirations for both Illinois wrestling as a team and his own achievements.

“Honestly, All-American and NCAA champion is the ultimate goal,” Pucino said. “But, you know, obviously (I am) looking at it one match at a time. But that’s definitely the goal.”

The duel versus SIUE will take place at 7 p.m. at the State Farm Center, while Saturday’s matinee versus Navy will start at 1 p.m. at Huff Hall.



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