#18 Illini Grapplers Open Season at Missouri Open

Mike Poeta will compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic, which features two of the nation's top wrestlers in each weight class.
Mike Poeta will compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic, which features two of the nation's top wrestlers in each weight class.

Nov. 16, 2007

Missouri Open Notes in PDF Format Get Acrobat Reader

#17 Illinois @ Missouri Open
Nov. 18, 2007 // 9 am // Hearnes Fieldhouse // Columbia, Mo.
Live stats of Missouri Open on mutigers.com
Live webcast of NWCA All-Star Classic at http://www.livesportsvideo.com/wrestling/nwca/07allstar/allstar07.asp

• Last year, 10 Fighting Illini grapplers placed in the Open Division of the Missouri Open, and five more placed in the Freshman Division. Mike Poeta (157) and Gabe Flores (125) won Open Division titles, while Jimmy Kennedy (133) and John Dergo (184) won Freshman Division crowns.

• Poeta's 2007 Missouri Open title was his third-straight, but he won't be back to defend it for a fourth year. While his teammates will be in Columbia, Poeta will be traveling to Eugene, Ore., to compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic on Nov. 19, where he will face Wisconsin's Craig Henning in the 157-pound bout.

• Flores will go after his third career Missouri Open title after winning the event during his redshirt and junior seasons. He finished second in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Troy Tirapelle and Kennedy will compete for their first Open Division titles after each winning Freshman Division crowns earlier in their careers. Tirapelle captured the title at 149 pounds in 2004-05 and Kennedy won the 133 championship last year.

Illini Open Strong at Loras Open
Illinois took 11 wrestlers to the Loras Open in Dubuque, Iowa, last weekend and came away with three titlists and 12 placewinners. Mike Poeta stormed through the 157-pound bracket with a pin and two technical falls, while Troy Tirapelle breezed through 141 with two pins and a decision in the championship match. Most impressively, however, may have been senior Dave Gleissner's 5-0 run through the 184-pound ranks. Gleissner earned a pin and a major decision on the way to his first open title.

In addition, heavyweight John Wise finished second, Ryan Prater finished second at 141 and 165-pounder Joe Barczak finished third. Dalton Bullard ended fourth at 133, Martin Smith placed fourth at 197, Vince Vercelli finished fifth at 141, Zeke Rowan was fifth at 133, and Jake Norman (197) and Jake Kimberlin (165) each placed sixth.

Eight Illini Ranked in Preseason Polls
Eight Illinois wrestlers garnered preseason rankings from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and W.I.N. Magazine, led by returning All-American Mike Poeta. Poeta took the No. 2 spot from W.I.N. and was ranked No. 3 by NWCA at 157.

Sophomore 125-pounder Jimmy Kennedy was slotted fifth by NWCA and sixth by W.I.N., and senior Gabe Flores pulled in a No. 10 ranking by W.I.N. and a No. 13 listing by NWCA at 125.

Roger Smith-Bergsrud, at 165, was ranked No. 7 by W.I.N. and No. 8 by NWCA, while sophomore John Dergo was slotted at No. 13 in both listings. Patrick Bond took the No. 12 spot at 197 by W.I.N. and the No. 13 spot by NWCA, while heavyweight John Wise was ranked No. 19 by NWCA. Junior 141-pounder Troy Tirapelle was listed No. 15 by W.I.N.

Illinois Returns 8 NCAA Qualifiers
The Fighting Illini enter the season with most of the weight classes pretty well set. Senior Gabe Flores, a two-time NCAA qualifier, will wrestle at 125, and sophomore NCAA qualifier Jimmy Kennedy will be UI's 133-pounder. Junior Troy Tirapelle, who reached the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06 at 149, will drop down to 141 this season, and junior All-American Mike Poeta will wrestle at 157.

Junior Roger Smith-Bergsrud returns at 165 after making NCAAs last year, and sophomore John Dergo drops down to 174 after reaching the NCAA Championships at 184 as a true-freshman. Patrick Bond and John Wise also are back at 197 and heavyweight, respectively, after both made the 2007 NCAA Championships.

That leaves just two open weight classes for the Illini - 149 and 184. Senior Dan Zeman and redshirt-freshman Joey Kotowski will battle throughout the early part of the season for the spot at 149, while seniors Pat Brownson and Dave Gleissner and redshirt-freshman Ben Friedl will compete at 184.

Columbia Kind to Illini Over Years
Despite the fact that three-time Missouri Open champ Mike Poeta won't be competing this year because of his invitation to the NWCA National All-Star Classic, Illinois will bring a number of wrestlers who have had success at the event.

Gabe Flores is looking for his third Missouri Open title after winning at 125 in 2003-04 and 2006-07, while Troy Tirapelle won the Freshman Division title at 149 in 2004-05. Jimmy Kennedy and John Dergo each won Freshman Division crowns last year, taking titles at 133 and 184, respectively. Roger Smith-Bergsrud finished third at 165 in both 2004-05 and 2006-07, John Wise has placed fifth and second, respectively, the past two years, and Patrick Bond placed sixth last season.

Pat Brownson finished fourth at 184 last year, while Clint Arlis placed sixth at 157. Ben Friedl placed fourth in the Freshman Division at 174 last year, while Joey Kotowski finished third in the Freshman Division at 149 a year ago.

Poeta Heads to NWCA All-Star Classic
While the rest of his teammates are in Missouri, junior returning All-American Mike Poeta will head to Eugene, Ore., for the NWCA National All-Star Classic at 9 p.m. (CT) on Nov. 19. Poeta will face Wisconsin's Craig Henning in the 157-pound bout, one of three matches featuring a pair of Big Ten wrestlers. Poeta's appearance marks the third time in the last four years that Illinois has sent at least one wrestler to the event. In 2005, Alex Tirapelle and Pete Friedl competed at the exhibition dual, and in 2004, Mark Jayne wrestled at the All-Star Classic. In addition, Illinois head coach Mark Johnson and assistant coaches Jim Heffernan and Jeremy Hunter all wrestled at the event during their collegiate careers.

Two Illini Change Classes
After spending their entire Illini careers at a different weight class, junior Troy Tirapelle and sophomore John Dergo will move down to their natural classes this year. Tirapelle, who has wrestled at 149 in his first two years, will be Illinois' starter at 141. After wrestling at 184 in his true-freshman season, Dergo will drop to 174.

Bond has Eventful Summer
Following a successful 2006-07 campaign in which he finished fifth at the Big Ten Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships, Patrick Bond wasn't satisfied. So he spent a large part of his summer training with some of the world's best wrestlers. Bond spent three different stints training at the United States Olympic Training Center with the U.S. team that competed at the 2007 World Championships.

Johnson Begins 16th Year at Illinois
Coming into his 16th season at the helm of the Illinois wrestling program is Head Coach Mark Johnson. He has led the Illinois program to more wins, NCAA Champions, NCAA qualifiers and All-Americans than any coach in the school's history. Also during his tenure, Illinois has finished in the Top-10 at the NCAA Championships on nine occasions and in 11 of the last 13 seasons finished in the Top-12. He has compiled a 177-38-3 record at Illinois for an .819 winning percentage.