Illinois wrestling to host Golden Gophers

Illinois%E2%80%99+Travis+Piotrowski+wrestles+with+Maryland%E2%80%99s+Brandon+Cray+in+the+125-pound+weight+class+during+the+meet+at+Huff+Hall+on+Jan.+28.+The+Illini+won+25-18.
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Illinois wrestling to host Golden Gophers

Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski wrestles with Maryland’s Brandon Cray in the 125-pound weight class during the meet at Huff Hall on Jan. 28. The Illini won 25-18.

Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski wrestles with Maryland’s Brandon Cray in the 125-pound weight class during the meet at Huff Hall on Jan. 28. The Illini won 25-18.

Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski wrestles with Maryland’s Brandon Cray in the 125-pound weight class during the meet at Huff Hall on Jan. 28. The Illini won 25-18.

Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski wrestles with Maryland’s Brandon Cray in the 125-pound weight class during the meet at Huff Hall on Jan. 28. The Illini won 25-18.

By Brendyn Jones

The No. 14 Illini wrestling team is coming off of a 1-1 weekend in Michigan where they picked up a win against Michigan State but dropped a meet against No. 5 Michigan. The program is in the midst of conference competition and will be wrestling against Big Ten teams until nationals in March.

Next up on the schedule is Friday when Illinois will host the No. 8-ranked Minnesota at Huff Hall. It will be their first time hosting a meet since the opener against Missouri. Last year, the Illini dropped the meet when they lost to the Golden Gophers 17-14.

Minnesota is 8-2 overall with its two losses against Oklahoma State and Iowa, two premier wrestling programs in the country. Iowa beat Minnesota 10-24 on Sunday, making its record 1-1 in the Big Ten.

“I’ve been watching Minnesota a long time,” said head coach Jim Heffernan. “They’re disciplined, they’re strong, they’re in shape, they don’t make a lot of errors, so it’s a challenge facing them all the time. As far as our team, we need to see improvements and wrestle better than we did last week for sure.”

Minnesota is led by the No. 1-ranked heavyweight, and true freshman, Gable Steveson. He rose to the No. 1 spot after beating Iowa’s Connor Corbin, becoming 20-0 on the season. Steveson is the highest ranked freshman in the nation and will likely face off against Deuce Rachal.

Last season, 184-pound redshirt senior Emery Parker, 197-pound redshirt senior Andre Lee, and 133-pound redshirt sophomore Dylan Duncan all got wins against Minnesota.

Last year, Steve Bleise was ranked No. 15 when he beat Barone in a 4-2 decision and is now No. 9 in his weight class. Barone was No. 12 prior to his loss against the Wolverines last week and is looking forward to the opportunity to flip the script.

“I’m excited that I get a rematch with him,” Barone said. “I feel, personally, I was down a little bit last year. We had a close match last year and he ended up on top, beating me, so I’m excited that we get a rematch. I feel good at 157 (pounds) this year; it’s nice that I get to be at the weight I want to be.”

Heffernan is calling on the team’s experience to help them Friday against a dangerous Minnesota team, but he thinks the team can learn no matter the outcome. Heffernan knows his team sees this as an opportunity to focus on the postseason since a lot of the competition will be the same.

“I think (a win) would be really good for us moving forward because we have a pretty tough schedule this year,” Barone said. “It also is just how far we have come this season. We started out losing to Mizzou, but beating (Minnesota) would be proving that we know we’re up in that top ten and we’re one of the best teams in the nation.”