Illini set to fight Hawkeyes

By Brendyn Jones, Staff Writer

The No. 20-ranked Illinois wrestling team (2-3) is set to host No. 4-ranked Iowa (8-0) this Friday at Huff Hall. The Illini are looking to even both their overall and conference records with a win against the Hawkeyes.

The Illini are coming off of a loss to the No. 7 Minnesota Golden Gophers last week, when they gave up two major decisions and two pins to lose 15-26.

“I feel like the team has definitely stepped it up,” said redshirt junior Joey Gunther. “We took our lumps against Minnesota, and we really didn’t like that. I think it gave us a new perspective on what we (have) to do to get where we want to be, and so far every practice that we’ve had since then has been on a new level.”

The last time Illinois faced off against Iowa was last season when the Illini let the Hawkeyes come back from a 9-0 deficit to lose 18-17. The Illini went 5-5 in matchups and were leading 17-12 going into the final match but gave up a pin in the last round, giving the Hawkeyes six points. The Illini are returning eight wrestlers from that dual meet.

The Hawkeyes have put together an undefeated season so far, coining notable wins against Minnesota, Princeton and Rutgers. Last week, before grabbing a win against Rutgers, nine of the 10 starting wrestlers for the program were ranked. Illinois had six ranked wrestlers in their starting 10 during the loss against Minnesota.

Head coach Jim Heffernan is relying on more fight from the team against Iowa. He was vocal about the effort needed from the team and knows that to compete against a top program, the team needs to have fight.

“Everyone needs to make a great effort,” Heffernan said. “Iowa, since I started school many years ago, they’ve been the standard. So, it’s no secret they’re good, it’s no secret they’re always tough and in shape. Our guys know that, and we know that it’s a matter of them responding.”

The Illini won’t be short on experience against Iowa. Heffernan wrestled and graduated from the University of Iowa, and Gunther spent two years in the program before transferring to Illinois.

“(Iowa’s) going to come in thinking that they are tough guys,” Gunther said. “They’ve got some good wrestlers, don’t get me wrong, but they’re going to try to come in here and bully us. We just (have) to step up and fight back. If they punch, we (have) to punch back. If they kick then we (have) to kick back. (We) can’t lay down to these guys.”

[email protected]