Wrestling training hard, getting healthy for Big Tens

By Daniel Dexter

It’s been several months since the wrestling team has had the luxury of time.

With the regular season behind them, the Illini are now in the middle of three weeks of preparation for the Big Ten Tournament, which takes place in Madison, Wis., on March 8-9.

The added time gives head coach Jim Heffernan the opportunity to push his team harder and work more with individuals without the concern of having rested wrestlers for an upcoming meet.

“We have a little bit more time right now,” Heffernan said. “We don’t have to compete on a Sunday, and then turnaround and wrestle next week.”

Heffernan’s biggest concern is the health of his wrestlers. Throughout the season, the team was consistently without its full lineup. The break gives sophomore Caleb Ervin and senior Mario Gonzalez time to return to full health for a crucial part of the season.

Ervin has sat out since Nebraska dual with a back injury, but he has been participating in practice and expects to be fully prepared for Big Ten competition.

“Not being able to compete for most of the year, I think I’m going to be able to go in there with fresh legs, while a lot of guys have had to go through the whole season,” Ervin said. “Some will say that I won’t have the experience throughout the season, but I think that it doesn’t matter. If you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go.”

Aside from injuries, Heffernan in not worried in terms of how his team will perform during the tournament, even though the lineup features a lot of underclassman. He said the difficulty of schedule that the team went through should be enough preparation for younger members to know what to expect at the tournament.

Redshirt freshman Niko Reyes welcomes the chance to compete in such a high pressure situation because that is when he feels he competes at his best. Reyes said he is satisfied with the way he has competed in the postseason, finishing 3-1 at the National Duals with hopes of carrying his momentum into the Big Ten Tournament.

Reyes said training has been different now compared to during the regular season because of the greater attention toward individuals. During the tournament, wrestlers will be competing for themselves in their respective weight classes without the concern of team points.

With the tournament still a week and a half away, Heffernan said the wrestlers have not gotten anxious yet to start competing, but he expects they will be soon.

“They understand that right now is more breathing time without having to worry about competing this weekend,” Heffernan said. “I think by this weekend they will start looking forward to the tournament a lot.”

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