Men’s wrestling holds tough over break

By Jon Gluskin

Even as the Champaign weather gets colder, the Illini wrestling team continues to get hotter and is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation.

The Illini had a successful winter break, winning in both the Midlands and the Buckeye Duals.

Illinois rolled into Evanston, Ill., on Dec. 29-30 for the Midlands looking for a repeat after last year’s victory, which was the first-ever for the school.

Head coach Mark Johnson said the Midlands had been voted the best wrestling event next to Nationals, which shows how prestigious this tournament was.

And victory is just what the team encountered, tallying up 130.5 points, leaving behind Iowa (119), Iowa State (110.5), Central Michigan (101) and Michigan State (88.5). At the time, Iowa was ranked ninth in the nation, while Iowa State was ranked second.

“It’s a big thing to win,” Johnson said. “We were really balanced and we wrestled well.”

Nine Illini placed in the tournament out of 10 weight classes. Senior Mark Jayne (133-pounds) sealed the victory for his team with his personal title, getting a takedown with 20 seconds left in sudden victory overtime. It was Jayne’s first Midlands title, after he lost in the finals last year.

“This year going back and being able to win it felt pretty good,” Jayne said. “I’ve been watching it (Midlands) on TV since I was a kid. It was special for me.”

Junior Tyrone Byrd (197) said the biggest highlight from the tournaments was Jayne winning the Midlands title. Byrd said Jayne’s performance throughout the season has helped his team be more successful.

“Jayne’s looked phenomenal this year,” Byrd said. “He’s a man on a mission. That’s the type of domination you need from a captain.”

Jayne has been a force all season, leading the Illini to its successful start.

“I just prepared for the season,” Jayne said. “I go out there and I expect to win. I want to dominate my opponent and that’s what I’ve ended up doing.”

Junior Alex Tirapelle (157) came in second. He was coming off a Midlands title last year but could not defeat his opponent this year, defending national champion Mat Gentry of Stanford.

Coming in third was junior Pete Friedl (174). Sophomore Donny Reynolds (165) and senior Brian Glynn (184) came in fourth. Senior Anton Dietzen (149) finished fifth, Byrd took sixth and red-shirt freshman Gabe Flores and sophomore Cassio Pero (141) both came in seventh.

There was no letdown for the Illini on Jan. 8, when the team competed at the Buckeye Duals in Columbus, Ohio. The Illini swept the Duals, beating Tennessee-Chattanooga, Clarion and Wyoming.

Even without sophomore starters Michael Martin (141) and Tirapelle who were dealing with knee injuries, the Illini were able to come out on top.

The match against Chattanooga posed the greatest challenge for the Illini, as they fell behind early 10-4. The Illini came back though, rattling off six straight wins, including a pin by Jayne and major decisions by junior Kyle Ott (125) and Friedl. The final score was 27-10, in favor of the Illini.

“Our first match (we) got out a little rusty,” Byrd said. “After we got that out of the way, everybody got together and we wrestled like we should have.”

Clarion was not as difficult a task for the Illini, as the Illini won eight of the 10 matches en route to a 37-7 victory. Dietzen won on a pin, with Friedl and Ott also winning on falls.

In the third and final dual, the Illini dismantled Wyoming, putting up a 47-spot of the scoreboard and shutting out its opponent. Only seven matches were held, as Wyoming forfeited the remainder of the contest, being 149, 174 and heavyweight.

Both Pero and Reynolds won on pins, and sophomore Matt Winterhalter (184) won on a major decision in his only match of the day.

Jayne said his team has been competing well, but there is room for improvement.

“We need to do better,” Jayne said. “We’ve got some things we need to work on. I don’t think we’re where we need to be right now.”

The team needs to be more prepared and more focused going into matches, along with cutting down the mental errors and toughening up during the whole match, Jayne said.

Byrd said his team is not concerned with their No. 2-ranking and it is not an area of focus.

“Rankings are rankings,” he said. “It’s nice to be ranked in the top-five, but it’s not about what you’re ranked at the beginning of the season. All we have to do is wrestle and perform as good as we are. We shouldn’t have to focus on rankings and numbers.”

Big Ten competition starts for the Illini tonight versus Wisconsin in Madison at 7 p.m., and tomorrow the Illini return home to Huff Hall to battle defending ACC Champion North Carolina State at 1 p.m.

“If we perform up to the best of our ability, we’re a good, solid team and are capable of beating anybody,” Johnson said.