Top-ranked Mike Poeta earned the No. 2 seed at 157 pounds at the 2009 NCAA Championships.
March 17, 2009
#8 Illinois at NCAA Championships
March 7-8 // Scotttrade Center // St. Louis, Mo.
#1 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 (101-13, .886) and Kennedy ranking fifth with his 29-4 record this season (90-18, .833). Poeta currently ranks 17th in career wins, recently passing assistant coach Carl Perry (98 wins), and Kennedy is tied for 22nd with Tyrone Byrd.
#3 Jimmy Kennedy (133) has won 15 of his last 18 matches and 47 of 54 matches dating back to Jan. 20, 2008. He is 29-4 this season with a third-place finish at Big Ten Championships, 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 27-9 to this point and Futrell holding a 24-12 mark. Blanton leads Illinois with eight pins and Futrell is second on the squad with six, with both wrestlers scoring bonus points 14 times.
#1 Mike Poeta (157) ascended to the top of the Intermat rankings on March 3, marking the 23rd week that he has been the top-ranked wrestler at 157 in his career. Poeta is now 73-6 in his last 79 matches dating back to 2006-07 and has scored bonus points in seven of 13 wins this season.
#16 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (165) is 19-10 this season after starting 12-0. In his career, 71 of his 109 matches (65 percent) have been decided by three points or fewer, with 36 matches decided by one point and 37 more bouts decided by two or three points. He is 26-10 in one-point matches and 22-15 in two- or three-point matches.
#8 John Wise (HWT) has been solid in his senior season, holding a 21-7 record, and is second on the team with six pins. He began the season 7-1, which was a career best, and has won eight of his last nine bouts.
Illinois had 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 stepped in at 149.
March 20: Quarterfinals // 10 am // ESPNU/ESPN360
March 20: Semifinals // 6 pm // ESPN2/ESPNU/ESPN360
March 21: Medal Round // 9:30 am // ESPNU
March 21: Championships // 5:30 pm // ESPN/ESPN360
Play-by-Play: Dave Armstrong
Analysis: Tim Johnson, Jeff Blatnick
Sideline Reporter: Quint Kessenich
Additional Illinois Qualifiers
125: B.J. Futrell (24-12), Fr., Park Forest, Ill. 141: Ryan Prater (11-15), So., Plainfield, Ill. 165: #16 Roger Smith-Bergsrud (19-10), Sr., Lake Bluff, Ill. 174: #19 John Dergo (14-8), Jr., Morris, Ill. 184: #12 Jordan Blanton (27-9), Fr., Richmond, Ill. 197: Patrick Bond (16-13), Jr., Chesapeake, Va.
Illini History By the Numbers
1 NCAA and Big Ten champion under Mark Johnson 7 NCAA champions under Johnson 10 Big Ten and NCAA champions in the same year 20 All-Americans under Johnson 32 Two-time All-Americans 16 Two-time NCAA All-Americans under Johnson 9 Three-time All-Americans 6 Three-time All-Americans under Johnson 20 NCAA champions 106 NCAA All-Americans
#8 Illini Travel to NCAA Championships
No. 8 Illinois makes the short trip to St. Louis for this week's NCAA Championships at the Scottrade Center. The Fighting Illini look to return to a top-10 finish at the national championships after a three-year absence. The Orange and Blue are fresh off a second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago and are taking nine of 10 starters to NCAAs, the most qualifiers for Illinois since taking 10 in 2006.
3 Illini Earn Seeds for NCAAs
Three Fighting Illini wrestlers earned seeds when the NCAA Championships brackets were announced on Monday. Top-ranked Mike Poeta grabbed the No. 2 seed at 157, while third-ranked Jimmy Kennedy was seeded third at 133 and eighth-ranked John Wise took the No. 9 seed at heavyweight. Kennedy also grabbed the only pigtail bout for any Illini, wrestling Bucknell's David Marble, who Kennedy earned a 12-2 major decision over in last year's NCAA first round.
Illini History at NCAAs
This is the third-straight trip to the NCAA Championships for five of the nine Illini qualifiers and the fourth-consecutive appearance for #1 Mike Poeta. #3 Jimmy Kennedy, #16 Roger Smith-Bergsrud, #19 John Dergo, Patrick Bond and #8 John Wise all have qualified for NCAAs two times prior to this year, while it is the first trip for B.J. Futrell, Ryan Prater and #12 Jordan Blanton. Poeta and Kennedy both have placed at NCAA's, with Poeta finishing second in 2008 and third in 2007, and Kennedy taking fourth in 2008.
Illinois finished in 14th place at last year's tournament with 74 points, up from 19th place in 2007 and 25th in 2006. Prior to those three seasons, Illinois had finished in the top 10 in six consecutive seasons.
Weight Classes to Watch
Although the consensus is that the 133-pound class will be one of the most entertaining at this week's NCAA Championships, that's not the only class where an Illini grappler could reach the podium. Here's a look at a few possibilities:
Not surprisingly, the top four seeds at 133 went to Big Ten wrestlers, with Michigan State's Franklin Gomez seeded first, Ohio State's Reece Humphrey second, Jimmy Kennedy third and Iowa's Dan Dennis fourth. Kennedy's pigtail draws into a matchup with Wyoming's Cory VomBaur, who Kennedy majored at Midlands in 2008. The earliest seeded wrestler Kennedy could meet would be Minnesota's No. 6 Jayson Ness, who Kennedy beat twice this year, or Cornell's No. 11 Mike Grey, who Kennedy defeated at last year's NCAA tournament. Kennedy also could face the seeded Humphrey, No. 7 Nick Fanthorpe (Iowa State) or No. 10 Jake Strayer (Penn State), who defeated Kennedy at Big Tens two weeks ago.
No. 1 and second-seeded Mike Poeta looks for the crowning moment in his collegiate career, an accolade that escaped him by a single point in 2008 when he dropped a 5-4 decision to Cornell's Jordan Leen in the title bout. The first seeded wrestlers Poeta could face are either No. 7 Matt Moley (Bloomsburg) or No. 10 Scott Winston (Rutgers), in the quarterfinals. Leen is the No. 3 seed, meaning the two could sqaure off in the semifinals, as is fifth-seeded Mike Chandler (Missouri), who Poeta beat in last year's tournament.
#12 Jordan Blanton looks for an All-America honor in his first collegiate season, but the road will be a tough one. The unseeded Blanton won't get any favors as his first bout will be against No. 9 Joe LeBlanc (Wyoming), and should he win that one, he could face No. 8 David Craig (Lehigh). Looming in the quarterfinals would be top-seeded Jake Herbert (Northwestern), who decisioned Blanton, 6-1, at the Big Ten Championships.
No. 8 and ninth-seeded John Wise has a strong chance to reach All-American status in his final go-round at the NCAA Championships, as he has been ranked in the top 10 the entire season. Wise drew UC Davis' Ricardo Alcala in the first round and could face Wisconsin's eighth-seeded Kyle Massey in round two. Top-seeded David Zabriskie (Iowa State) likely will be waiting in the quarterfinals.
Poeta Fires Out Strong in Debut
No. 1 Mike Poeta (157) stepped onto the mat for the first time in 2008-09 during Illinois' trip to West Virginia and Pittsburgh in early January, earning a technical fall and a major decision in the two duals. He currently holds an 13-0 record with five major decisions and two technical falls.
Johnson Grabs 200th Win at Illinois
Illinois' 24-16 win at Wisconsin did more than extend the Illini's winning streak to three, it gave head coach Mark Johnson his 200th win at Illinois. He now has twice as many wins as any other coach in Illini history (B.R. Patterson, 100) and has the second-best winning percentage of any active Division I head coach behind Oklahoma State's John Smith. Johnson also ranks 12th in career wins among active coaches.
Illini Rank 8th in Pins
Fighting Illini wrestlers have won 37 bouts by fall this season, surpassing the 29 pins racked up by the 2007-08 squad and tying for the eighth-most in school history. True-freshman Jordan Blanton leads the team with eight falls, while John Wise and B.J. Futrell each have six.
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 and 5-0 in the dual, but whom Kennedy beat, 4-3, at Big Tens - 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 Ascends to Top Spot Once More
Two-time All-American Mike Poeta returned to the No. 1 spot in the NWCA/Intermat rankings on March 10 after being ranked No. 2 for the past eight weeks. Poeta has been ranked No. 1 for 23 weeks in his career.
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 Futrell is 22-10 and Blanton holds a 25-7 mark. Lately, they have been joined by fellow true-freshman Eric Terrazas (149) in the lineup, who is 14-15. 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.
Heavyweight Wise Interns with FCA
Senior heavyweight John Wise has stepped out of the classroom this semester in order to finish his degree requirements. Wise is completing an internship with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as part of his sport management degree and his main project has been organizing meetings between members of the UI FCA "huddle" and leaders from local high school FCA groups to help the high schoolers prepare for some of the things college will bring and also encourage them by showing how college students can live out their faith.
#8 Illinois Takes 2nd at Big Tens
No. 8 Illinois was able to put it all together, with nine of 10 wrestlers meeting or exceeding their seed, to finish second at the Big Ten Championships behind champion Iowa. Mike Poeta won his second-straight Big Ten title, while Jimmy Kennedy, John Wise and Patrick Bond battled back through the wrestlebacks to each finish third at their respective weights. John Dergo and Jordan Blanton both finished fourth, while B.J. Futrell and Roger Smith-Bergsrud took sixth. Ryan Prater earned the last automatic berth at 141 with his seventh-place finish and Eric Terrazas placed eighth at 149.
*Complete notes available in attached PDF file