Illinois wrestling team looks to redeem itself against Wisconsin

By Daniel Dexter

Coming off a disappointing loss, the younger members of the Illinois wrestling team are looking for a shot at redemption this Friday as the team travels to Wisconsin for its first taste of Big Ten competition.

One of those young wrestlers is redshirt freshman Zac Brunson. After carrying an early lead in his match against Cornell, Brunson could not hold the lead down the stretch and lost the match. He attributed the loss to a mental mistake.

“I thought I was the better wrestler, but I was getting caught in little positions,” Brunson said. “I just need to be better prepared to go hard at the end of the match. I had the lead early, but then I started coasting towards the end, which needs to stop.”

Brunson won’t have much room for mistakes Friday when he takes on No. 10 Isaac Jordan, his highest ranked opponent to date. Brunson said the loss offers an opportunity for him to grow, and he would rather make the mistake now than in March at the NCAA tournament.

Associate head coach Mark Perry has stressed that the Illini need to grow quickly. Perry believes the pain the wrestlers felt after the Cornell loss will serve them well against Wisconsin where they look to redeem themselves.

Aside from several individual matches, Perry doesn’t think Wisconsin will be a tough challenge and should serve as a confidence booster for the Illini. His focus is more geared toward getting injured members of his team healthy for the end of the year.

“At the end of the day, you get to the national championship; no one cares if you are hurt,” Perry said. “Your opponents don’t care. If anything, they are excited. It’s hard to swallow, but we don’t want to potentially hurt our guys where we don’t have them during the Big Ten season to go to Penn State.”

One of the wrestlers that did return to action after sitting out four weeks with an injured shoulder is NCAA qualifier Mario Gonzalez. He defeated No. 12 Jace Bennett over the weekend, while still not at 100 percent.

Being a redshirt senior, Gonzalez is one of the few members of the team that won’t return next year. In his last season, he wants to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets on the mat and helps build a solid team for the future.

“From what I see, all of them are tough,” Gonzalez said. “If they keep stepping up, I would say things are looking pretty good for them.”

Perry shared the sentiment and has his sights set beyond the weekend matchup. With the team’s relative youth, Perry is looking to develop the weapons needed to crack the top powerhouses of the Big Ten.

“We want to position ourselves at the end of the year, where we make a statement at the national championships,” Perry said. “We return everybody basically, and we have some unbelievable kids that are coming in that we signed. This is a program on campus that is going to be competing for national championships year in and year out. The future is definitely exciting.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.