Mike Poeta placed third at the NCAA Championships in 2007.
Aug. 3, 2007
The Big Ten Network is set to launch on Aug. 30 providing fans of its 11 schools conference programming 24 hours a day/seven days per week. In addition to expanding coverage of football and basketball, Illini fans will get a chance to see some of the stars of Olympic sports that are making headlines. This is the fourth in a series of profiles on athletes you have likely read about, but perhaps never had a chance to see their talents.
Mark Johnson has coached seven national champions in wrestling. Junior Mike Poeta wants to be the eighth. Last season Poeta headlined a young Illini team by vaulting to No. 1 in the nation at 157 pounds, but placed fourth in the Big Ten and third at the NCAA championship.
"I came here to be a national champion," Poeta said. "If I'm ranked no. 1 along the way that's good too, but it's all about being a champion."
Poeta won his first 19 matches of the season, including a thrilling 9-8 decision over previous no. 1 Trent Paulson of Iowa State to claim the title at Midlands and a 3-2 victory over No. 2 C.P. Schlatter of Minnesota in a dual meet. Following the victory over Paulson, Poeta vaulted from fourth to first in the nation and kept the ranking for two months.
It was in that match against Schlatter in early February, though, that Poeta suffered a rib cage injury that kept him out of action for nearly a month until the Big Ten meet on March 3
Poeta lost to Schlatter 2-1 in double overtime at Big Ten's, one of two defeats at the conference meet. "I'm not using that as an excuse, though," he said. "I was disappointed with that result."
Poeta has qualified for the NCAA meet in his first two seasons and was named the team's Most Valuable Wrestler a year ago. He finished 25-3 after going 4-1 at the NCAA meet. Poeta avenged his loss to Schlatter with a 5-4 decision in the quarterfinals, but dropped a 4-0 decision to Paulson in the semis.
His father, Domenic, an accomplished wrestler in his own right, enrolled him in a wrestling club at the age of five and coached his son through eighth grade. Coached by former Illinois great Griff Powell, Poeta had a stellar high school career, being named to the All-America Wrestling team by USA Magazine and being tabbed as the no. 1 recruit in the nation by Intermat. Poeta also won two state titles at Highland Park High School.
Although he had some Illini influences in his life, he said, "I was coming here anyway. I wanted to represent my state school."
Besides winning a national title, Poeta has aspirations of representing the United States in the Olympics. He has had the opportunity to train at the Olympic facility in Colorado Springs, competed with the USA Dream team and was the Junior Freestyle National Champion.
Because of that, Poeta, like many athletes devotes himself to training all year. For him it's not just about wrestling. "Sometimes the toughest part of wrestling is staying in shape and staying healthy," he said. "Wrestling requires a lifestyle of eating right and staying fit."
Poeta wrestled at 165 pounds at the end of his freshman season to help the team, but says he's set at 157. "I'm as motivated as I have ever been heading into this season," he said. "I believe my most memorable moment in the sport is yet to come."