No. 11-ranked Illini wrestling set for Friday night showdown with second-ranked Hawkeyes

By Alex Wallner

Coming off of a loss against No. 6-ranked Ohio State on Sunday, the No. 11-ranked Illinois wrestling team will have another tough test on Friday at Huff Hall against the No. 2-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.

Iowa comes into Friday with an 8-0 record in dual matches and is only behind Penn State (6-0) in the NCAA’s weekly rankings.

In addition, Iowa has several individual wrestlers who are ranked in the top 20.

Nathan Burak (12-0) is ranked No. 3 in the 197-pound weight class and will face the Illini’s Andre Lee (10-4) on Friday.

Lee said that his approach has stayed the same this season, no matter who his opponent may be.

“I’m just going to go out there and execute what I’ve been practicing all year to do,” Lee said. “You know, I’m just going to go out there and focus on my thing, be aware of what he is good at, but just not try overthinking anything.”

Sam Stoll is also ranked in the top 20 – at No. 8 among heavyweights. At 13-2 on the season, Stoll will take on the Illini’s Brooks Black, who is ranked No. 17 in the weight class and is 12-3 this season.

Black said that this match is just another one of many that he and Stoll have competed in over the course of Black’s career, which goes past the college ranks.

With Stoll’s only two losses on the season coming to the No. 1 and No. 5-ranked wrestlers in the heavyweight class, Black said that he hasn’t prepared any differently.

“I’ve been over at Coach Perry’s house a lot, just talking to him and getting stuff figured out,” Black said. “We’ve been doing a lot of individuals, working on stuff for Friday and working on what he’s going to do. We’re aware of what he’s good at, but we don’t want to take away from my game plan and my pace and how I wrestle.”

Assistant coach Mark Perry is a former wrestler at Iowa, where he won back-to-back individual national championships in 2007 and 2008, along with helping the Hawkeyes win a team national championship during the 2008 season.

Perry is one of two former Hawkeye wrestlers on staff, as head coach Jim Heffernan graduated from the university in 1987.

Heffernan said that this Iowa team is no different than any other Iowa team of the past, pointing out that the program has set the standard in the sport for many years.

“Iowa’s always the same, they’re always good, they’re always competitive, they’re always a factor, they’re always one of the teams – if not the team – you have to go through,” Heffernan said. “They’ve set the standard in the sport for probably the better part of 40 years and most of us are still trying to catch them. We don’t prepare for them any different at all.”

Iowa wrestling has won 23 team NCAA championships and 35 Big Ten championships. Illinois has not beaten the Hawkeyes since the 2005-2006 season, where it went to Iowa City, Iowa and won 24-13.

Lee pointed to that history as a reason why a win over Iowa would not only be big for the Illini’s season but for the program as a whole.

“It’s something that we obviously haven’t done in a while,” Lee said. “It definitely would be a big win for us, something that would kind of slingshot us into the next dual and get us that confidence that we know that we’re capable of.”

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