Back-to-back wins help wrestling stay unbeaten

By Jon Gluskin

It’s not always easy to plan for the unexpected. The unexpected happened to the Illinois wrestling team, as they faced bus trouble, heating problems and scheduling conflicts this weekend.

Amid all this, the Illini pulled together and won back-to-back dual meets against Wisconsin and North Carolina State, keeping their undefeated streak and No. 2-ranking alive.

“I think we’ve done well,” said Illinois head coach Mark Johnson. “We’re just trying to prepare ourselves for the National Duals and wrestle the Big Ten Duals and we’ve done that. We’ve had five dual meets in the last eight days and that’s the kind of stuff that gets you ready for the dual meet season the next month or so.”

The Illini traveled to Madison, Wis., Friday for their Big Ten opener against No.14-ranked Wisconsin and came out with a 25-12 victory.

The match started off strong for the Illini, as senior Anton Dietzen (149-pounds) pulled an upset. Dietzen was ranked No. 19 and his opponent was ranked 14.

“I think I definitely made a step up from where I was,” Dietzen said. “I had a couple of good wins for my confidence, and I also learned a lot from both my matches – stuff that I need to work on, improve on, (like) my shape and scrambling and that sort of thing.”

“I knew that I should be right up there with those guys in the rankings. I just knew it was my time to prove it.”

After two Illini losses by junior Cal Ferry (157) and sophomore Donny Reynolds (165), the Illini fell behind 3-6 to Wisconsin. That’s when the momentum and the meet switched teams.

The Illini proceeded to win the next six matches to take a commanding 25-6 lead. Junior Pete Friedl (174) won on a major decision, followed by a pin from senior Brian Glynn (184). Junior Tyrone Byrd, ranked No. 14, struck another upset, ousting his 8th-ranked opponent. Sophomore Mike Behnke (Hwt) and junior Kyle Ott (125) then won their matches.

“We were expecting to go out and beat them,” said senior Mark Jayne. “We were a little short-handed but still took it to them pretty good. They were the first Big Ten duals, (but) we were looking to do a lot better.”

The marquee match-up of the day featured the Illini’s No.4-ranked Jayne (133) and the No.6-ranked Tom Clum of Wisconsin. Jayne won 6-5.

Sophomore Cassio Pero (141) lost the final match, but the Illini were still victorious overall.

“I won my match so that’s good, but there are areas I think I can do better on,” Jayne said. “I’ve just got to get off to a better start during my matches. I’ve got to make sure I’m finishing my shot strong. Team-wise, there were some bright spots, again some spots that we were pretty weak in like just aggressiveness and toughness and something I feel like as a team we can get better at.”

Despite not arriving back in Champaign until early Saturday, the Illini were ready for their afternoon bout with N.C. State. The Illini manhandled N.C. State, shutting them out 40-0 at Huff Hall.

“It was a toughness thing on our part,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “We don’t get back until 1:30 in the morning and we have to get up the next day to work out, make weight and wrestle at 1 (p.m.). That’s tough on kids – not only their bodies but their minds. And so we came through that and wrestled well both times, and I think it’s a step. It’s something that toughens you up for the end of the season.”

Some of the highlights from the dual meet included Pero, Friedl and Glynn all winning on a technical fall, and Reynolds winning on a major decision. Ferry competed in place of All-American Alex Tirapelle and was able to get a win.

With the victory, the Illini move to 6-0 and will compete Saturday and Sunday at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in Cleveland, where 12 other ranked teams will also be present – including No. 1 Oklahoma State. This is the first time the Illini will be participating in the event.

“I thought it was great that we came back and everybody wrestled hard on Saturday,” Dietzen said. “Everyone was sore, everyone was a little tired – sometimes that’s the way you’re going to feel. It’s a tough sport. I think we made some big steps in learning to work through that sort of thing.”