Wrestlers prepare for No. 1 Minnesota



By Mike Theodore

The Super Bowl may be Sunday, but the 11th-ranked Illini wrestlers have their own heavyweight battle to concentrate on.

Illinois and the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers will battle for Big Ten positioning at 1 p.m. Sunday at Huff Hall.

The winner will not raise the Lombardi trophy but will have a leg up on the Big Ten standings with only three conference dual matches remaining before the Big Ten Championships in March.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to see where we’re at,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “They’re no question the number one team in the nation. We’ll just lace it up and see what happens.”

The dual match will showcase three nationally top-ranked wrestlers and 13 other wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their individual weight classes.

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    The Gophers (14-1, 3-0) have three undefeated wrestlers and four wrestlers ranked either first or second in their weight classes. Sophomore Dustin Schlatter is ranked first in the 149-pound weight class and will face the Illini’s 16th-ranked Troy Tirapelle, who will try to rebound after his 9-3 loss last week at Penn State. Tirapelle will have his hands full with the Gopher grappler — Schlatter has won 66 out of 67 in his career and comes in with 54 straight victories.

    But it is Schlatter’s brother who is in the biggest match of the afternoon.

    Third-ranked C.P. Schlatter (157) will meet the Illini’s top-ranked and lone undefeated wrestler, Mike Poeta. C.P. Schlatter missed time earlier this season due to an injury but still has an impressive 16-2 record.

    The match will be the first time that Poeta and Schlatter will meet in college; in high school Schlatter defeated Poeta in the Junior Nationals finals.

    “These are big matches, and these set the tone for big seeding implications, obviously, for the Big Ten and the nationals,” Johnson said.

    Illinois junior Gabe Flores (125) will face yet another top-ten wrestler, this time fourth-ranked Jayson Ness. Flores lost for the first time of the season last Friday at Michigan State against then-No. 6 Franklin Gomez but rebounded against Penn State’s fifth-ranked Mark McKnight.

    “The Big Ten season is always a grind,” Flores said. “It’s been a long few weeks, but you got to go out there and do what you got to do.”

    The match will be the Illini’s first in seven days after a stretch of three dual meets in a week.

    “Hopefully I feel 100 percent,” Flores said. “(Ness) has to wrestle a tough kid from Indiana on Friday night. He has to make weight twice, so hopefully that will be an advantage.”

    Other key matches for Illinois include freshman John Dergo’s (184) bout with second-ranked Roger Kish, Cassio Pero’s (141) match with second-ranked Manuel Rivera and heavyweight John Wise’s match with top-ranked Cole Konrad.

    Admission is $5 for the public, $2 for those 18 and under and free for students with their student ID card. Fans can also watch a live Web cast of the match at www.fightingillini.com.