Time to woof down some grub and head the 2 miles south from the apartment to the Devaney Center. :) Pumped for this one, I think Nickal though is better than Dudley slightly , I have seen him make a lot of mistakes late in matches (being sloppy) that have cost him matches or made them closer than need to be.
125- Travis Piotrowski- Fr.Breakdown: The Illini were left handcuffed at 125 last season by the late transfer of Jered Cortez to PSU. This move forced true freshman Francis Edelen into the shark infested waters of the Big 10 ahead of schedule. A 2-18 season ensued. The Illini will likely once again look to a true freshman but should get a more competitive campaign out of Piotrowski. Piotrowski picked up 3 Fargo medals, 3 IHSA state medals, and an IHSA state championship during his prep career. He has demonstrated some national pedigree, placing 3rd at Fargo in 2015 where his only loss was to Daton Fix. He has wrestled guys like Daton Fix, Yianni D, and Nick Suriano in HS and shouldnâ€™t be overwhelmed by the breadth talent in the Big 10.
Best Wins: Yet to compete in college
Worst Losses: Yet to compete in college
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: 125 thins out a bit in the Big 10 this season without Megaludis, Tomasello, or Youtsey. Still, the top of the conference is pretty daunting. Match-ups with the guys in the upper-middle of the conference such as Jose Rodriguez, Mitch Rogaliner, and Aaron Assad will be good measuring sticks for Piotrowski. As an Illinois guy, Iâ€™m also anxious to see matchups with fellow IHSA stars Elijah Oliver and Johnny Jiminez.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: The Illini have recently signed California superstar Justin Mejias.
133- Zane Richards- Sr.
Breakdown: Zane Richards is one of the true engines of the Illini program. He trains and competes with maximum effort and intensity. He has relentlessly pursued the top of the NCAA podium since he arrived in Champaign and I believe it is now within his reach. Richards is coming off a great junior season which included an undefeated regular season and a 4th place finish at NCAAs. He followed this season up by winning the University World Team Trials, twice upsetting Tyler Graff in the finals. He owns wins over just about every contender at the weight including a couple wins over preseason #1 Cory Clark. All the hype will be thrown towards Clark and Tomasello, but nothing less than the top of the NCAA podium will be satisfying for Richards.
Best Wins: Cory Clark x2, Eric Montoya x 3, AJ Schopp, Jimmy Gulibon x2, Johnny DiJulius x 2, George DiCamillo, Jordan Conaway x 2
Worst Losses: Only losses were at the hands of Cory Clark and Cody Brewer
Most Anticipated Match-Up: Zane Richards and Cory Clark have battled 5 times in their careers with 4 of those matches decided by 1 point or OT. Any separation in this series could determine the NCAA champion at 133. Obviously a match-up with Nathan Tomasello would be an absolute dynamite slug fest. I am also really interested to see Richards square off with Jered Cortez who bailed on the Illini in favor of Penn State last season.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: 2x IHSA Champion and Cadet National Champion Dylan Duncan
141- Brock Ervin- So.
Breakdown: Brock Ervin enters his third season in Champaign and Illini fans still donâ€™t quite know what they have here. Thus far, Ervinâ€™s career has been a little reminiscent of his brotherâ€™s. That is to say, flashes of great talent mitigated somewhat by inconsistency and injury. Ervin had some nice wins early last year but missed half the Big 10 season and all of the post-season with injury. Ervin no doubt has a high ceiling. He won 5 prep state titles and a prep national title. He is uber-slick on his feet and has that fluid chain-wrestling style. He also scrambles well and can be stingy on top. All the talent is there. Does he have the requisite grit, determination, and durability to realize his talent? The answer to that question will determine how the back half of Ervinâ€™s Illini career unfolds. He may be the biggest wild card in the Illini room. He could finish the upcoming season anywhere from the podium in St. Louis to a non-qualifier.
Best Wins: AJ Bannister, Steve Bleise
Worst Losses: Topher Carton, Jordan Laster
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: Ervinâ€™s season was cut short so he has yet to match-up with many of the projected Big 10 starters. I am anxious to see him go with big names guys like Jimmy Gulibon, Tommy Thorn, and Ke-Shawn Hayes. A revenge match with Topher Carton would also be fun.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: 2x PA State Champion Mike Carr
149- Eric Barone- RFr.
Breakdown: The Illini will be unproven at 149 this season. Incumbent starter Kyle Langenderfer is moving up to 157, leaving a spot for a youngster in the lineup. Eric Barone will likely get first crack at holding down the spot. Barone had a solid prep career which included multiple state medals and several solid national appearances. Barone began his prep career off the national radar, but clawed his way into the conversation when he upset blue-chip Gopher recruit Larry Early in the state finals his senior season. Barone will likewise begin his college career off the national radar. Can he once again climb the ladder and claw his way into the national picture? He comes off a limited 5-4 redshirt season, suggesting he still has some climbing to do. However, his makeup, commitment, and track record of progress suggest that he just might do that.
Best Wins: Probably Nate Limmex
Worst Losses: Matt Wempen
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: Iâ€™m anxious to see how Barone hangs with the middle of the conference, where guys will likely be fighting for those final automatic Big Ten NCAA allocations. This makes match-ups with guys like Luke Blanton, Fredy Stroker, and Ryland Lubeck especially significant.
Waiting in the Wings at Illinois: The Illini have several other lower profile but talented youngsters competing at this spot including Isaac Reinemann, Nick Gasbarro, and Michael Ordonez
157- Kyle Langenderfer- Jr.
Breakdown: With I-Mar heading to 165, Langenderfer will bump up to 157 this season. This move probably couldnâ€™t come soon enough for Langenderfer who began his collegiate career 3 years ago as a redshirt 157 pounder. That season he lost 1-0 to I-Mar in their freshman wrestle-off and had a strong redshirt campaign. As we know, in the ensuing years I-Mar blossomed into a back-to-back NCAA champion and Hodge contender. This forced Langenderfer to suck down to 149 for the next two years to break into the lineup. His first year at 149 was exceptionally promising. Langenderfer posted 21 wins, finished 3rd at Big 10s by defeating both Hunter Stieber and Alec Panteleo, and knocked off Michael DePalma at NCAAs. By contrast, his second year at 149 was nothing but a struggle. Holding weight was clearly taking a toll. Langenderfer never looked right and his results significantly tailed off. When wrestling with his usual spark, Langenderfer is active, explosive, and dangerous. He has an exciting style with a knack for putting guys on their back. Hopefully a more manageable weight cut will provide the spark Langenderfer needs to return to form and to return to St. Louis as an NCAA qualifier.
Best Wins: Hunter Stieber, Alec Panteleo
Worst Losses: Cody Burcher, Gabe Morse
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: An IHSA State Finals rematch with Brian Murphy should be fun. Iâ€™m also anxious to see match-ups with qualifiers Jake Short, Alex Griffin, and Richie Lewis.
Waiting in the Wings at Illinois: 3x IHSA State Champion Carver James
165- Isaiah Martinez- Jr.
Breakdown: I-Mar heads into his junior season with 2 NCAA titles in hand. His greatness is unquestionable. The question now is how high up the ladder of all-time greats can I-Mar climb. His 1 career loss is fewer than contemporaries Jâ€™Den Cox, or Kyle Snyder. It is fewer than legendary 4x champions Logan Stieber or Kyle Dake. Should Martinez run the table over his last 2 seasons, his career would place him at the table with all-time greats like Sanderson and Gable. All that being said, there remains a lot of work to do and a number of really dangerous opponents lurking in the shark infested waters of 165. I-Mar is uber competitive and a new list of competitors should keep him plenty motivated. He is, of course, freakishly explosive, he has an endless gas tank, and his championship mentality doesnâ€™t hurt either. This rare combination will make I-Mar the man to beat again in 2017, but a really impressive group of youngsters nipping at his heels and the potential to see Mark Hall at 165 next season should keep things really exciting for the next 2 years to come.
Best Wins: Jason Nolf x 2, Ian Miller x2, James Green x 2, Dylan Ness, Brian Realbuto, Nick Brascetta x2
Worst Losses: Only career loss to Jason Nolf
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: Wow, there are a lot of great potential match-ups at 165. Iâ€™m anxious to see all of the blue chip youngsters get their swing at I-Mar. Vincenzo Joseph, Alex Marinelli, Logan Massa, Anthony Valencia, and Chandler Rogers are all likely to enter the fray this year at 165. Match-ups with any of these guys will generate plenty of excitement and I-Mar has to want some revenge on Valencia. You also have established contenders like Isaac Jordan and Brian Realbuto who can legitimately threaten the crown. Finally, there is Daniel Lewis who may be the ultimate wildcard with his top game. Lewis can legitimately pin anyone at any time.
Waiting in the Wings: Carver James will likely serve as the primary back-up at both 157 and 165.
174- Zac Brunson- Sr.
Breakdown: Brunson enters the final season of what has been an outstanding Illini career still looking for that elusive NCAA medal. Prior to last season, I mentioned that Zane Richards was probably the greatest wrestler in Illini history yet to AA. The title probably now belongs to Brunson. Brunson will surpass 100 career wins this season. He is a 3x NCAA qualifier with 7 career wins at the big dance. Brunson spent almost all of last season ranked in the top 10. He was the Big 10 runner-up, placing ahead of NCAA champion Myles Martin. He owns wins over numerous All-Americans and has shown the ability to hang with anyone at the weight. Brunson lacks a bit of the explosive athleticism that most elite D1 wrestlers have, but he more than makes up for it with intensity, intelligence, and grit. I will be pulling hard for Brunson to wrap up his Illini career in style, somewhere on the podium in St. Louis.
Best Wins: Dylan Alton, Brian Murphy, Tommy Gantt x 2, Alex Meyer, Nathan Jackson x 2, Bryce Hammond x 2, Johnny Eblen, Taylor Massa, Jaeden Bernstein
Worst Losses: Nick Wanzek was his only loss outside of the top 10
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: Brunson is 2-1 career versus Nathan Jackson and 1-1 career versus Alex Meyer. The continuation of these two series will remain central to the Big Ten race at 174. Obviously, the presence of Bo Jordan at 174 will shake things up at the top as well.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: The Illini have Xavier Montalvo and Emery Parker battling for the starting spot at 184. Either one could make 174 if necessary.
184- Emery Parker- So.
Breakdown: Jeff Koepkeâ€™s graduation and Nikko Reyesâ€™ departure will open a spot for either Xavier Montalvo or Emery Parker. Montalvo came to Champaign with more fanfare being an Izzy Style Montini kid and boasting multiple state titles, a folkstyle national title, and Fargo runner-up finish. Yet itâ€™s been Parker who has been turning heads in Champaign while Montalvo has struggled thus far to live up to his HS pedigree. Parker is an explosively athletic kid. He wrestles with strong pace and has some edge to his game. He will scrap with you and has some real offensive potential in neutral. Parker reached the finals last season at Reno, upsetting both Jordan Ellingwood and Austin Severn along the way. He followed the folkstyle season with some impressive offseason results, posting wins over bigger names guys like Hunter Ritter, Ryan Christensen, Bobby Steveson, and Michael Pixley. The Illini brass remains high on Montalvo and Montalvo could certainly earn this spot, but for the moment Iâ€™m placing my bet on Parker. He looks capable and maybe a touch hungrier.
Best Wins: Jordan Ellingwood and Austin Severn
Worst Losses: Nick Elmer
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: Parker got two spot starts for the Illini last season, but faced two hammers in Brett Pfarr and Devonte Mahomes. I am anxious to see how he stacks up with the next tier of the conference. Folkstyle rematches with Bobby Steveson and Ryan Christensen or Hunter Ritter could loom large.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: 2x Illinois State Champion and Prep Folkstyle National Champion Xavier Montalvo.
197- Andre Lee- So.
Breakdown: Andre Lee is an interesting story. The Illini signed Lee late in 2014 after blue chip recruit Michael Pixley went academic casualty on them. Lee was a 2x state place winner out of national powerhouse Oak Park-River Forest HS but didnâ€™t garner much national attention on a HS team that boasted half a dozen state champions and numerous national champions. Still the Illini were excited about Leeâ€™s athletic upside and viewed him as a project recruit who could pay off really nicely with a few more years of high level training and experience. As fate would have it, Nikko Reyes also went academic casualty on the Illini and Lee was rushed into the lineup a little ahead of schedule. Lee responded with a typically up and down freshman season. He started nicely and flashed some real potential during a 10-2 start before ultimately succumbing to the ridiculous grind of the Big Ten schedule. The second half of the season wasnâ€™t pretty as Lee finished 1-7 in Big 10 duals and 0-2 at the Big 10 tournament. Lee does have ample ability to win. He just didnâ€™t seem to hold up mentally through the course of an entire season. Flipping half of those Big 10 losses into the win column could see Andre Lee as a candidate to qualify for the national tournament. The graduation of 197 stalwarts such as McIntosh, Burak, Martin, and Huntley just may afford Lee this opportunity.
Best Wins: Preston Weigel
Worst Losses: Jacob Cooper and Jacob Berkowitz
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: I am anxious to see if Lee does a better job of holding up through the mental a physical grind of the Big 10 season. Late season match-ups with Northwestern, Purdue, Penn State, and Indiana should tell the tale.
Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: The Illini are need of depth in their upper weights. Lee would likely be spelled by veteran Danny Hicks if needed.
Heavyweight- Brooks Black- Jr.
Breakdown: Brooks Black will once again represent the Illini at heavyweight. Black is already a 2x national qualifier who was a win away from All-American last season. To this point in his career, Black has shown the ability to consistently hang with just about everyone at the top of the division, but hasnâ€™t yet found a way to consistently beat most of them. Black is a big heavyweight who holds position and defends well. His top game is better than most and he is athletic enough to get away on bottom. He just doesnâ€™t light up the score board in neutral, which generally leaves him in tighter 1-2 takedown matches. A harder pace, a more offensive mindset, and a willingness to take more risk may be his ticket breaking into the top 10. Black showed some willingness to make these changes late last season and it paid off. At Big 10s and NCAAs he knocked off Stoll, Nevills, Jensen, and DeJournette on his way to a round of 12 finish. A portend to come? Or just a 2 week aberration? We are going to find out this season.
Best Wins: Spencer Myers x 2, Nick Tavanello x 2, Sam Stoll, Collin Jensen, Nick Nevills, Denzel Dejournette
Worst Losses: Suffered 3 losses outside the top 15 last season to Ray Oâ€™Donnell, Thomas Haines, and Tanner Harms.
Most Anticipated Match-Ups: The heavyweight division has been absolutely stacked throughout Blacksâ€™ career. The top of the conference remains super elite with Snyder and Medbery, but everyone else is in play for Black. Sam Stoll, Nick Nevills, Michael Kroells, and Collin Jensen are the likely match-ups that will determine if Black breaks into the All-American party or if he remains just outside looking in.
Waiting in the Wings: Black will be backed up by strangely dangerous Deuce Rachal.
That's pretty cool. It'll be fun to see how things unfold, the world is his oyster right now.
Even more impressive that he competed in Rio with a meniscus tear. That sort of thing keeps basketball players off the court for long stretches of the season... but then again, they're basketball players. :D