Top-seeded and second-ranked Mike Poeta will look to defend his Big Ten title from a year ago when the Illini compete in this year's Big Ten Championships on Saturday and Sunday.
March 4, 2009
#8 Illinois at Big Ten Championships
March 7-8 // Bryce Jordan Center // University Park, Pa.
#2 Mike Poeta (157) and #3 Jimmy Kennedy (133) both rank in Illinois' top five in career winning percentage, with Poeta holding down the No. 2 spot (98-13, .883) and Kennedy ranking fifth with his 24-3 record this season (85-17, .833).
#3 Jimmy Kennedy (133) has won 10 of his last 12 matches and 42 of 48 matches dating back to Jan. 20, 2008. He is 24-3 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 #12 Jordan Blanton (184) and B.J. Futrell (125) have been exceptional early in their collegiate careers, with Blanton going 25-7 to this point and Futrell holding a 22-10 mark. Blanton leads Illinois with eight pins and Futrell is second on the squad with five, with both wrestlers scoring bonus points 13 times.
#2 Mike Poeta (157) is now 70-6 in his last 76 matches dating back to 2006-07 and has scored bonus points in six of 10 wins this season.
#15 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (165) is 17-7 this season after starting 12-0. In his career, 69 of his 107 matches (64 percent) have been decided by three points or fewer, with 36 matches decided by one point and 33 more bouts decided by two or three points. He is 26-10 in one-point matches and 20-13 in two- or three-point matches.
#8 John Wise (HWT) has been solid in his senior season, holding a 17-6 record, and is second on the team with five pins. He began the season 7-1, which was a career best, and has won his last four and six of his last seven bouts.
Illinois has three true-freshmen in its lineup this year, marking the third-straight year that the Illini have had at least two rookies in the lineup. In addition to B.J. Futrell (125) and #12 Jordan Blanton (184), Eric Terrazas has stepped in at 149.
The Big Ten Network will broadcast the championship matches live on Sunday, March 8, with Tim Johnson handling play-by-play duties and Jim Gibbons and Ken Chertow providing expert analysis.
125: 8th B.J. Futrell (22-10, 3-5), Fr., Park Forest, Ill. 133: 3rd #3 Jimmy Kennedy (24-3, 6-2), Jr., Ingleside, Ill. 141: 7th Ryan Prater (10-13, 2-6), So., Plainfield, Ill. 149: 8th Eric Terrazas (14-15, 2-6), Fr., Wheaton, Ill. 157: 1st #2 Mike Poeta (10-0, 8-0), Sr., Highwood, Ill. 165: 4th #15 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (17-7, 4-4), Sr., Lake Bluff, Ill. 174: 5th John Dergo (12-6, 5-3), Jr., Morris, Ill. 184: 4th #12 Jordan Blanton (25-7, 6-2), Fr., Richmond, Ill. 197: 5th Patrick Bond (13-12, 3-3), Jr., Chesapeake, Va Hwt: 4th #8 John Wise (17-6, 6-2), Sr., Pittsfield, Ill.
#8 Illini Head to Big Ten Championships
No. 8 Illinois (13-2 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten) heads to the 2009 Big Ten Championships at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa., on March 7-8. The Fighting Illini won six of their final seven dual matches, including wins over No. 17 Michigan and Michigan State on the last weekend of the regular season. Illinois is looking to improve on a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Big Ten Championships as seven wrestlers are seeded in the top half of their respective brackets.
All 10 Illini Earn Pre-Seeds
All 10 Fighting Illini grapplers earned pre-seeds for the Big Ten Championships, with No. 2 Mike Poeta grabbing the top seed at 157 pounds. No. 3 Jimmy Kennedy took the third seed at 133, while No. 8 John Wise (HWT), No. 12 Jordan Blanton (184) and No. 15 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (165) all earned No. 4 seeds in their respective classes. John Dergo (174) and Patrick Bond (197) were the five-seeds in their classes, while Ryan Prater was the No. 7 seed at 141 and B.J. Futrell and Eric Terrazas were the No. 8 seeds at 125 and 149, respectively.
NCAA Qualifier Spots Allocated
The NCAA announced the number of qualifiers for each weight class at each qualifying event on Feb. 26, using a standard of top 28 in both the coaches' rankings and RPI, plus a season winning percentage of .725. Wrestlers meeting or exceeding all three thresholds were labeled "Gold" standard, while those meeting or exceeding in two of those criteria were "Silver" standard competitors. Conferences were awarded qualifying spots based on the number of gold and silver wrestlers in each weight class in that league or qualifying tournament.
However, there will be 52 at-large selections made on March 11 after all the qualifying events are completed, spread among the weight classes in order to fill each class to include 33 wrestlers. Below is the list of qualifiers the Big Ten received at each weight class as well as the number of national at-large selections in each class:
Weight BT Qualifiers National At-Large 125 7 5 133 6 5 141 7 5 149 5 5 157 7 4 165 8 6 174 6 6 184 6 6 197 4 6 HWT 5 4
Illini History at Big Tens
Six of seven Illini who wrestled last season placed at the 2008 Big Ten Championships, with Mike Poeta winning the title at 157, Jimmy Kennedy placing second at 133, Patrick Bond finishing fourth at 197, John Dergo and John Wise finishing fifth at 174 and heavyweight, and Roger Smith-Bergsrud placing sixth at 165.
All six of those wrestlers have placed at Big Tens the past two seasons and Poeta is a three-time place-winner, finishing third at 165 in 2006.
Weight Classes to Watch
While every weight class in the Big Ten is extremely tough, there are a few classes where Illinois wrestlers could make a deep run in the Big Ten Championships. Here's a look at those weights:
Third-ranked junior Jimmy Kennedy will look to overcome a pair of conference foes who have had his number this season in No. 1 Daniel Dennis (Iowa) and No. 2 Franklin Gomez (Michigan State). Kennedy dropped a pair of matches to Dennis and lost to Gomez in the teams' dual on Feb. 22. Kennedy also lost to Gomez at Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships in 2008.
No. 2 and top-seeded Mike Poeta will look to defend his 2008 Big Ten title and earn a spot in the NCAA Championships despite not earning the conference a qualifier spot because of his short season after recoving from injury. Poeta is 10-0, 8-0 in Big Ten duals.
Patrick Bond will have to rally after a tough regular season in order to garner one of the Big Ten's four berths to the NCAA Championships at 197 pounds. Bond struggled through a 13-12 season, 3-3 in the Big Ten, but is back to full strength after battling a flu bug for the first two weeks of the conference season.
No. 8 and third-seeded John Wise will have to wrestle well in order to punch his ticket to the NCAA Championships as the Big Ten will have five wrestlers from his weight in St. Louis. Wise placed fifth at Big Tens last year but lost only two matches to conference opponents this season, dropping bouts to Iowa's Dan Erekson and Wisconsin's Kyle Massey.