Wrestling tries to get confidence early

By Jon Gluskin

The preseason polls are out. The exhibition matches are over. The stage is set for the No.3 Illinois wrestling team to start their championship campaign.

It all starts Sunday at the Fifth Annual Missouri Open in Columbia, Mo. Success has been a common theme for the Illini at the Missouri Open – they have had 12 champions over the past four years there.

“Everybody’s kind of in the same boat,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “We’ve got a few of our starters out, but that’s OK. We’re not going to hit on all our cylinders, so that’s why we go to these tournaments.”

The Missouri Open does not count a team score.

“At these early season tournaments like this, it’s more for individual competition,” Johnson said. “There’s no pressure as a team.”

Senior Brian Glynn (184 pounds) and junior Alex Tirapelle (157) return to the Open as defending champions in their respective weight classes. Glynn has been the champion the past two seasons at the Open, going undefeated in the process.

“My personal goal is to win it,” Glynn said. “I’ve been in the finals of this tournament the previous four years. Not only to win it, but to wrestle pretty good as well. It’s early in the season. Everyone’s not peaking right now, but this is a good indicator of where we are individually and as a team.”

Glynn also said this tournament helps show the team what it needs to improve on as the season progresses and figure out weaknesses. He said getting off to a good, fast start will also help move the Illini in the right direction.

“It gives you confidence throughout the year,” Glynn said. “If we can start off on the right foot and just roll with it, who knows where we can end up at the end of the year?”

Glynn will also be going after a personal milestone this season. With a career record of 81-33, Glynn is only 19 wins away from the prestigious 100 career-win mark, a feat that has only been accomplished by 11 Illini, nine of whom have been coached by Johnson.

“It is a goal of mine,” Glynn said. “That’s something I look at. I’d much rather have a title than eclipse 100 wins, but that is something I could look back on and really admire.”

Three other Top-25 teams will be competing at the Missouri Open – No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 21 Purdue. Big Ten rival Indiana and other Division I opponents Chattanooga, Eastern Illinois, North Carolina, and Old Dominion will also be participating in the tournament.

Another Illini who could attain 100 wins this season is senior Mark Jayne (133), with a career record of 75-26. Jayne is also a defending champion and two-time winner at the Open, but he will not be wrestling Sunday.

Instead, the No. 4-ranked Jayne will be competing at the 39th Annual Marines/National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic at the Vadalabene Center at SIU-Edwardsville. The meet is an exhibition that pits top-ranked wrestlers at each weight class.

Jayne will compete Monday against the No. 1-ranked wrestler, Travis Lee of Cornell. Lee, a two-time All-American and 2003 NCAA Champion, got the best of Jayne at the Classic last year, beating him 7-4.

Jayne wants to get a grasp of the level of competition he’s at. He also said he wanted to evaluate his performance and address the areas he needs to improve upon.

“Wrestling top guys in the country can always help you out down the road,” Jayne said. “I feel like I can beat anybody in the country, so it’s not a big deal (wrestling the No. 1-ranked wrestler). My goal at the end (of the season) is to be on top, so I’m going to have to beat the best. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

The Illini competing at the Missouri Open are ready. Jayne is ready for his match. The time is now for the Illini.

“We’ve got a couple tournaments here to see where we’re at, what mistakes we’re making, what we’re doing right,” Johnson said. “Once you go through these tournaments, it kind of readies you for the rest of the season.”