Mike Poeta, last year's runner-up at 157 and a two-time All-American, will step on the mat for the first time this season when the Illini face West Virginia and Pittsburgh this weekend.
Jan. 8, 2009
#7 Illinois at West Virginia / #25 Pittsburgh
Jan. 9-10 // Morgantown, W.Va. / Pittsburgh, Pa.
Live video for the West Virginia match is available at fightingillini.com via the West Virginia official athletics site.
Live stats for the West Virginia match are available through the NWCA Scorebook.
Mike Poeta (157) and #2 Jimmy Kennedy (133) both rank in Illinois' top 5 in career winning percentage, with Poeta holding down the No. 3 spot (88-13, .871) and Kennedy ranking fifth after his 16-1 start this season (77-15, .837).
#2 Jimmy Kennedy (133) has won 34 of his last 38 matches dating back to Jan. 20, 2008, and is 16-1 this season with a title at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, a third-place finish at Midlands and a Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honor under his belt. He earned the honor after defeating #2 Jayson Ness (Minnesota) at the NWCA All-Star Classic by a 7-5 margin.
True-freshmen #15 Jordan Blanton (184) and B.J. Futrell (125) have been exceptional early in their collegiate careers, each currently holding a 17-5 record. Blanton finished fifth at Midlands, seventh at the Las Vegas Invitational and earned Co-Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors on Nov. 18 after starting his career 3-0 at the ACC/Big Ten Clash. Meanwhile, Futrell's three losses prior to going 3-2 at Midlands were by a combined six points. Blanton leads Illinois with six pins and Futrell has four, which ranks second on the team. Both wrestlers have scored bonus points in 10 of their 17 wins.
#11 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (165) is 12-2, his best start to a season in his career, and started 12-0 before dropping a pair of matches at Midlands. Smith-Bergsrud won the Missouri Open and is 5-0 in dual meets.
#10 John Wise (HWT) has started strong in his senior season, holding a 10-3 record and is second on the team with five pins. He began the season 7-1, which was a career best.
John Dergo (174) has been impressive, going 6-2 thus far and placing eighth at Midlands in just his second competition. Although he was ranked No. 11 by Intermat on Dec. 16, he was not included in the Dec. 23 rankings.
#7 Illini Head East to WVU, #25 Pitt
No. 7 Illinois opens the new year by traveling east to wrestle West Virginia and No. 25 Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Friday's dual will start at 7 p.m. (CT), while Saturday's will begin at 6 p.m. Live video and stats are available for the West Virginia dual on Friday. Illinois is 6-1 all-time against the Mountaineers and 0-3 against Pittsburgh.
Already this season, John Dergo (174) and #15 Jordan Blanton (184) have defeated Pittsburgh opponents, with Dergo downing Dave Sullivan, 12-5, at Midlands, and Blanton defeating Zac Thomusseit for seventh place at the Las Vegas Invitational. No Illini have face any of the Mountaineers so far this year. In his career at Illinois, Mark Johnson is 1-0 against West Virginia, defeating the Mountaineers 34-6 during the 2005 National Duals, and has never faced Pittsburgh.
Poeta to Debut in Morgantown
Former No. 1 Mike Poeta (157) is slated to make his 2009 debut Friday night against West Virginia after missing the season's first five weekends with a knee injury. Poeta is the 2008 NCAA runner-up, a two-time All-American and the 2008 Big Ten champion. He has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for 23 weeks in his career and is in third place on Illinois' career winning percentage record list at 88-13 (.871).
Starters Pile Up Early Wins
Illinois' projected dual starters have been nothing short of dominant early in the season, despite being without two-time All-American Mike Poeta at 157 so far and No. 11 John Dergo (174) until Dec. 13. The eight starters who have competed thus far have racked up a combined record of 94-32 with 20 pins, eight technical falls and 20 major decisions.
Illini Start Season in Pinning Mood
After just five weekends of competition, Fighting Illini wrestlers have won 34 bouts by fall, already surpassing the 29 pins racked up by the 2007-08 squad and tenth-most in school history. True-freshman Jordan Blanton leads the team with six falls, while John Wise has five and B.J. Futrell has four.
Blanton, Kennedy Earn Big Ten Honors
True-freshman Jordan Blanton (184) was named Big Ten Co-Wrestler of the Week on Nov. 18 after he dominated the ACC/Big Ten Clash on Illinois' opening weekend. Blanton started his college career by pinning his first two foes, then wrapped up the weekend by taking an injury default win in a match he led by a comfortable margin. Blanton's honor is the first by a true-freshman in school history.
Two weeks later, on Dec. 2, No. 4 Jimmy Kennedy (133) earned Wrestler of the Week honors after toppling No. 2 Jayson Ness (Minnesota), 7-5, at the NWCA All-Star Classic. It was Kennedy's first career weekly honor. Kennedy currently is ranked No. 3 in the NWCA/Intermat rankings.
Kennedy Sees Familiar Faces at 133
The 133-pound weight class has a pair of familiar faces for returning All-American and third-ranked Jimmy Kennedy. No. 5 Daniel Dennis - who topped Kennedy, 5-3 in the second sudden-victory period, in their Midlands semifinal - went to Grant Community High School and is a year older than Kennedy. And No. 4 Jayson Ness (Minnesota) is a childhood friend of Kennedy's after the two got to know each other at various youth wrestling tournaments. Kennedy defeated Ness, 7-5, at the NWCA All-Star Classic earlier this season.
Poeta Reclaims Top Spot in Rankings
Two-time All-American Mike Poeta ascended to the top spot in the NWCA/Intermat rankings at 157 pounds on Nov. 18 despite not wrestling at the ACC/Big Ten Clash. Poeta was ranked No. 2 heading into the weekend behind Cornell's Jordan Leen, but was elevated to the top spot despite neither wrestler stepping on a mat. Poeta has been ranked No. 1 for 22 weeks in his career but was dropped from the rankings on Dec. 16 because he has not yet wrestled this season.
Three True-Freshmen in Illini Lineup
For the third-straight year, Illinois coach Mark Johnson has at least a pair of true-freshmen in his starting lineup. Rookies B.J. Futrell (125) and Jordan Blanton (184) have proved their mettle so far as each has racked up a 17-5 record. Lately, they have been joined by fellow true-freshman Eric Terrazas (149) in the lineup, who is 12-7 thus far. Blanton finished fifth at Midlands and seventh at the Las Vegas Invitational, while Futrell was one win from placing in both tournaments. Last year, Ryan Prater and Grant Paswall competed at 141 and 149, respectively, as rookies, while Jimmy Kennedy (133) and John Dergo (174) were freshmen starters in 2006-07.
Kennedy, Tirapelle Move Up Lists
Junior All-American Jimmy Kennedy now ranks fifth on the career winning percentage chart at .837 after starting the season in ninth with an .813 winning percentage. Senior Troy Tirapelle also moved up the career pins list with two falls at the Missouri Open. Tirapelle is now seventh all-time at 20 pins.
Illini Place 10th at Midlands
No. 8 Illinois boasted three placewinners and a 10th-place team finish at the 46th Annual Midlands Championships Dec. 29-30. Top-seeded Jimmy Kennedy finished third after dropping a 5-3 match to Iowa's fourth-seeded Daniel Dennis in the second sudden-victory period, seventh-seeded Jordan Blanton took fifth at 184 and sixth-seeded John Dergo finished eighth in just his second competition of the season after returning from injury.
*Complete match notes available in this PDF file