Illini wrestling finds success at UNI Open

By Jon Gluskin

Redshirt freshman Gabe Flores competed in his first collegiate tournament two weekends ago at the Missouri Open.

At the UNI Open at Cedar Falls, Iowa on Sunday, Flores upset the No.1-ranked wrestler at 125 pounds, he has already taken down the third ranked opponent – an accomplishment that might even make Pittsburgh Steelers undefeated rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger crack a smile.

“I was actually really surprised with my performance,” Flores said. “I wasn’t really known coming into the tournament and I made a name for myself. I don’t really look at the seeds – I just take one match at a time. That’s what it’s all about.”

“I felt a lot more confident,” Flores said. “Last week, I was trying to get a feel for it. It was my first tournament. I proved I could beat guys. This week, I was just going out to make a statement. I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to go out and beat as many people as I could and do my best.”

Flores was one of five wrestlers who won his respective matches for the No.3 Illini. There are 10 weight classes. It should be no surprise that Head Coach Mark Johnson was pleased with the performance of his team.

“We wrestled really well today,” Johnson said. “It’s about individuals and I was happy with the individuals that won. A lot of good things happened. This was a tournament we thought we could come in and dominate – we did.”

Johnson said in his 13 years of coaching at Illinois, this was the largest number of wrestlers that have ever placed first for his team at the UNI Open, and probably at any tournament.

Junior Tyrone Byrd (197) also defeated the number-one seed in his weight class.

“A lot of us improved,” Byrd said. “I felt like I stepped up my game. Do I think I’m at 100 percent of where I need to be? No, but that’s what the (rest of) of the season’s for.”

The other first-place finishers for the Illini were senior Mark Jayne (133), junior Alex Tirapelle (157), and senior Brian Glynn (194). Glynn is undefeated on the season at 9-0.

After the Missouri Open, Johnson stressed the importance of making individual improvements, something he got this time around.

Johnson said he was happy with Flores’ toughness. He was also pleased with the improvement of Byrd, along with sophomore Michael Martin (141), who finished in second place.

Byrd said he saw improvement in his match, especially with his mindset, which made him more successful this tournament.

“I had a lot more motion on my feet,” Byrd said. “My mentality was a lot different. I wasn’t timid. There were some nerves, but I made sure to use the nerves in a positive way.”

Freshman Mike Poeta (157) and junior Pete Friedl (174) also finished in second. Poeta lost to Tirapelle in the finals. Friedl lost his match in overtime, 6-4.

“I get really pumped up when the team performs well,” Flores said. “It was really good to see (Illini) surrounding me wrestling for the finals. That sort of gets my adrenaline going.”

Also for the Illini, sophomore Cassio Pero (141) finished in fourth place, sophomore Joel Karr (141) finished in fifth, and senior Anton Dietzen (149), senior Anthony Castillo (165) and sophomore Matt Winterhalter (174) came in sixth.

The Illini compete at home for the first time this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Huff Hall. It is the team’s first team-scoring meet of the season, against Central Missouri State. Some wrestlers from Central Missouri State competed at the UNI Open. Byrd said this should help his team next tournament.

Johnson said the first two tournaments have put the Illini in a good position for the dual meet.

“Dual meets are more pressure,” Johnson said. “All eyes are on you. These (Missouri and UNI) tournaments there are 12 matches going on at once. This will help us be ready for that.”

Byrd has a similar philosophy as his coach.

“The more matches you get in, the more experience you get, the better you are,” Byrd said. “Everybody just needs to come out, expect a victory and be aggressive throughout the whole match.”