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125- Travis Piotrowski- Jr.


Breakdown:  Piotrowski has somewhat quietly put together two solid seasons in Champaign.  He has earned two trips to the big dance winning a match at NCAAs as a Frosh and two matches at NCAAs last season.  Piotrowski is a high paced go-go type.  He can score in a variety of ways in neutral with quality leg attacks, good length for countering, and a surprising propensity for going up top and throwing.  He is tough on top but will struggle on bottom against top hammers.  Piotrowski thus far has been a consistent performer whose resume boasts numerous quality wins and very few bad losses.  However, Piotrowski is yet to knock off a true top-tier opponent.  He seems to have a high floor, but questions about how high his ceiling can go will remain until he delivers a highly ranked win.


Best Wins: Sean Fausz, Drew Mattin, Conor Youtsey, Elijah Oliver, Jay Schwarm, Josh Kramer, Brandon Courtney 


Worst Losses:  Nothing terrible.  Probably Johnny Jiminez and a few head scratchers early in his true frosh season.


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  Wrestling 125 in the Big 10 means dealing with Spencer Lee, Nick Suriano, Sebastian Rivera, and now Zeke Moisey and Sean Russell.  Piotrowski is currently 0-5 against these guys.  Piotrowski has never hit RayVon Foley, Connor Brown, Sean Russell, or Gavin Teasedale.  They’re all on the dual meet schedule this season.  I am anxious to see where he stacks up in that group. 


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois:  Multi-time Fargo All-American Justin Cardani will redshirt this season and the Illini have a verbal from 2018 Fargo champion Fabian Lopez.



133- Dylan Duncan- So.

Breakdown:  First and foremost, Dylan Duncan has not jumped weight classes since his 2015 Junior year of HS.   The cut has become significant and the time to bump up may have finally arrived.  We’ll see what happens, but I’m guessing we see both Duncan and Mikey Carr up a weight class in 2018.  Whatever the weight class, Duncan is unquestionably talented.  He arrived in Champaign with a terrific prep pedigree and has been winning at an elite level for years.  (He beat Yianni D in the cadet finals at Fargo way back in 2014.) Duncan turned in a strong 20-9 freshman campaign really flashing at Big 10s where he upended Mitch McKee and Jason Renteria on his way to a 3rd place finish.  Duncan wrestles an efficient style.  He is hard to get out of position making him difficult to attack and a good scrambler making him difficult to finish on.   Duncan is not a volume shooter but is a high percentage finisher when he gets to the legs.  He prefers legs on top and while not yet a prolific turner, he is a tough guy to shake.   He’s very seasoned and his big match experience and poise belies his age.  The 133 waters will be very deep once again in the Big 10 with guys like Micic, Pletcher, Lizak, RBY, and DeSanto, just to name a few.  Outside of Micic, I believe Duncan can compete effectively with this group.  With a few wins he could push for a possible seed at NCAAs.  He could have been seeded this past season, but the committee instead seeded Mitch McKee with a worse record, a worse Big 10 finish, and a head to head loss to Duncan. Go figure.  If Duncan does bump up to 141, the Illini will likely look to either Jacob Silzer or Abdullah Assaf at 133.  Both are talented youngsters who have flashed D1 ability, but either one would likely struggle through the Big 10 meatgrinder.


Best Wins:  Mitch McKee, Jason Renteria, John Erneste, Corey Keener


 Worst Losses:   Colin Valdiviez, Sean Nickell


Most Anticipated Match-Up:  If he remains at 133, I’m excited to see Duncan square off with Lizak and RBY.  Duncan vs DeSanto would also be a fun matchup of contrasting styles.   


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: Fabian Lopez may project at 133.  Abdullah Assaf and Jacob Silzer are both IHSA stars with eligibility remaining beyond this season.



141- Mikey Carr- So.

Breakdown: Mikey Carr is fast becoming the engine of this young Illini team.  He embraces hard work and commits to a championship lifestyle.   Illini coaches describe Carr as one of two guys who train so fanatically that they need to force him to occasionally take a break. The other guy being Isaiah Martinez.  Carr’s intensity shows in his matches where his pace and volume shooting are seriously problematic for opponents.  He is outstanding in neutral and relies heavily on the takedown game to wear down opponents.  He is a high effort guy on the floor, if not still developing a bit in this area of his game.  Carr’s freshman season was outstanding amassing 20 wins, reaching the Big 10 finals, and coming agonizingly close to an All-American finish at NCAAs.  Although less heralded than fellow freshman 141s Nick Lee and Chad Redd, he beat them both head to head.  I don’t bet against guys with this kind of motor and makeup.  Whether at 141 or up at 149, I believe Carr will outwork and outwill his way to the podium in 2019.


Best Wins:  Nick Lee, Tommy Thorn, Chad Red, Vince Turk, Brent Moore, Nick Gil, Cole Weaver 


Worst Losses: No “bad” losses.  The NCAA blood round loss to Sa’Derian Perry was a heart breaker.  He dropped a bout to Max Murin at Midlands.


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  I am anxious to see continued rivalries with Nick Lee and Chad Redd for 3 more years.  Match-ups with Mitch McKee, Murin, and possibly Ke-Shawn Hayes would be equally big.


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois:  Illini recently inked prep star Danny Pucino and they have two talented youngsters on campus in Dylan Thurston and We Rachal.



149- Eric Barone- Jr.

Breakdown:  After qualifying for NCAAs as a Freshman, Barone struggled through a 9-15 sophomore campaign.  He’s a tough positional wrestler who is difficult to score on, but who seems to lack a real go-to attack and struggles to put offensive points on the board.  Put that all together and you get a season full of close losses, but not enough wins to qualify for NCAAs in the brutal Big 10.  Barone hung with some tough guys including sudden victory with AJ Bannister and Jaren Glosser, tie-breakers with Jason Tsirtsis, and one takedown margins with Sorenson, Bleise, DeLuca, and Zander Wick.  But all of those were losses.  Barone competes close enough that with some incremental progress, one could envision an above .500 season and a return to the NCAAs.  However, unless Barone finds a way to develop some reliable offense it could continue to be “close but no cigar”.  Barone could find himself struggling for a spot in the lineup if both Duncan and Carr jump up a weight.  Barone is definitely big enough to go 157 but would likely have close competition from Carver James or Johnny Mologousis for that spot.


Best Wins: His best career win was Josh Maruca his freshman year.  Dante Rodriguez, Anthony Giraldo


Worst Losses: Austin Nash, Jwan Britton 


Most Anticipated Match-Ups: With Zain and Sorenson out, 149 looks considerably less terrifying.  Still Anthony Ashnault, Patricia Lugo, Ke-Shawn Hayes, Tommy Thorn, and Brady Berge are no picnic.  Assuming that tier is a little out of reach, how Barone does with the mid-tier of the conference will likely determine the relative success of  his season.  Cole Martin, Malik Amine, Jaden Enriquez, and Collin Purinton are those types of match-ups. 


Waiting in the Wings at Illinois:  Demarius Smith showed some nice flashes as a true freshman.  Any of Pucino, Thurston, or Rachal could grow into this weight class.



157- Carver James- Jr. or Johnny Mologousis- Fr.

Breakdown: 157 is up in the air for the Illini.   As mentioned previously, we could see Barone move up.  Otherwise, it could be Carver James or Johnny Mologousis.  James was a 3x IHSA small division champion.  He’s been in Champaign for three seasons but has had some difficulty staying healthy.  He turned in a solid redshirt freshman year but has only wrestled 10 matches over the past two seasons.  Mologousis was a 2x IHSA large division finalist.  James is more seasoned, but Mologousis might afford a little more offensive upside.  He takes a few more risks in neutral and is the more dynamic guy in the top position.   Whether Barone, James, or Mologousis, the sledding is going to be tough.    The Illini dual schedule brings in Jason Nolf, Micah Jordan, Alec Pantaleo, Tyler Berger, Ryan Deakin, Steve Bleise, Kaleb Young, Zander Wick, and Jacob Tucker.  There may not be a winnable bout on that slate.  Barone and James are probably best equipped to minimize the bonus damage but conference wins are likely to be scarce.


Best Wins:  Carver James’ best win is a freshman year win over Joey Gunther.  Johnny Mologousis’ best win was probably over Okie State Cowboy Wyatt Sheets. 


Worst Losses: Carver James hasn’t really taken bad losses.  Phillip DeLoach from Missouri may be his worst.  Mologousis dropped one to NAIA All-American Tobias Barnes of Missouri Valley. 


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:   As previously mentioned, the dual meet schedule doesn’t offer many compelling match-ups.  Kaleb Young, Zander Wick, Steve Bleise, and Jacob Tucker may represent an outside chance for an upset.


Waiting in the Wings at Illinois:  Demarius Smith, Eddie Ordonez, Kenny Kerstein, Baan Rachal 



165- Joey Gunther- Jr.

Breakdown:  Gunther returns home to Illinois and returns to 165 after manning 174 for the Black and Gold last season. Heavy hands and hard pace.  I love Gunther’s guts and grit.  He is a classic-style grinder and will add some veteran leadership and toughness to the Illini.  165 is extremely deep and again the schedule brings most of the heavy hitters.  Vincenzo Joseph, Logan Massa, Alex Marinelli, Isaiah White, and Evan Wick are all on the slate.   Gunther will sweat and bleed through another meatgrinder.  He’ll win a high percentage of his bouts and hang around with most of the superstars.  The question is this, will he make a deeper run in March?  He has all the trimmings of a round-of-12 try-hard guy, but sometimes those guys have a way of willing themselves onto the podium.  I certainly hope that happens for this kid.  True warrior. 


Best Wins:  Dylan Lydy, Nick Wanzek, Branson Ashworth, Devin Skatzka, Drew Hughes


Worst Losses:  Another guy who doesn’t really take “bad” losses.  Worst loss last year was probably Jordan Pagano.


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  I can’t wait to see Gunther battle Alex Marinelli.  Isaiah White presents an all-IHSA battle.  I am anxious to see if he can really test Massa and Wick.


Waiting in the Wings:  Fargo Champion Danny Braunagel will redshirt this season.



174- Xavier Montalvo- Jr.

Breakdown: As a super-talented 2x Fargo finalist, Xavier Montalvo was supposed to be the jewel of Illini 2016 recruiting class.  It has not worked out that way.  Montalvo has the talent, but he does not appear to have the make-up to get it done at this level.  He essentially went AWOL on the team last year after just one dual and did not return to the mat.  A lot of things can get you in this sport.  Whether it be burnout or personal problems or weight cutting or whatever, Montalvo appears to be in no state to contribute. I would love to see the kid overcome some demons and return to form, but those storybook endings are pretty rare in a sport as brutally honest as wrestling.  If Montalvo falls apart again, the Illini could look once more to David Riojas who took the bullet last year when Montalvo bailed.    The Illini would certainly prefer to give Riojas a well deserved redshirt season.  They also have redshirt plans for Fargo champion Zach Braunagel.   5th years senior and Minnesota transfer Colin Carr could be used in case of emergency.


Best Wins:  Jake Residori, Logan Gruszka


Worst Losses:  Montalvo’s only losses in the past 2 years are to All-Americans Jacobe Smith, Zac Brunson, and Daniel Lewis and to super-star Taylor Lujan.


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  Again, the first tier of the Big 10 is out of reach, but guys like Joe Grello, TeShan Campbell, Drew Hughes, and Devin Skatzka could be in play for a focused Montalvo. 


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois: Fargo champion Zach Braunagel will redshirt this season.



184- Emery Parker- Sr.

Breakdown: Emery Parker was incredible all year with a 28-4 season.   Somehow he was even more impressive at NCAAs.  Parker dropped his opening round bout before roaring back to win 7 straight bouts on the backside to earn NCAA bronze.  That kind of historic run takes talent no doubt, but even more so, it takes heart.  And that is what I love most about Emery Parker.  He is certainly an explosively athlete, but it’s his will that really separates him.   His has sort of a freestyle friendly style favoring neutral and scoring not in long scrambles, but rather in quick clean explosions.  Think Richard Perry.  Busy hands and feet, then bang, he’s in and he finishes.   Parker did not come to Illinois with a typical national champion’s prep pedigree and for that reason some still doubt that he is in the championship class.  Career wins over guys like Myles Martin, Dominic Abounader, Ryan Presich, and Taylor Venz suggest that he might be.  If the fates see to it that Bo Nickal goes 197 and Zahid Valencia remains at 174, then Parker is a legit championship contender.


Best Wins:  Myles Martin, Dominic Abounader, Taylor Venz, Ryan Preisch, Nick Gravina


Worst Losses: 1st round loss to Chip Ness at NCAAs


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  When you take third, you’ve got nothing but the top of the podium in mind.  Myles Martin, Taylor Venz, and Shakur Rasheed are real threats to that plan.


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois:  This is likely where Zach Braunagel will ultimately land.  The cupboard is otherwise a little bare and a definite recruiting target zone for the coming years in Champaign. 



197- Andre Lee- Sr.

Breakdown: I’ve always viewed Andre Lee as an interesting prospect.  He was a little under the radar for a kid coming out of the heralded Oak Park- River Forest program. He had definite athletic upside as a project recruit and the Illinois brass really believed they had found a diamond in the rough.  He came out of the gate well and really supported that assumption.  Well now Lee is a senior, and for whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened.  He’s 39 up and 42 down as a three-year starter in an admittedly brutal conference.  From a distance, Lee just doesn’t seem to have that burning desire to win.  He wrestles low scoring close matches with just about everyone, but seems to take a 3-2 loss without really letting the fur fly.  Case in point, Lee lost 13 matches last season. 11 of those losses were by one point, sudden victory, or tie breakers.  On the flipside, he won only two one-point matches all season.  Glass half full:  Lee figures out a way to win his fair share of these tight bouts and he is an NCAA qualifier with upset potential.  Glass half empty:  Lee is the guy we’ve seen for the past three years and rides out his senior season to complete a non-descript .500 career of could-have-been.


Best Wins:   He once beat Preston Weigel.  Lately, probably Bobby Steveson and Zach Chakonis 


Worst Losses: Anthony Messner, Regis Durbin, some guy named Alex Cruz.


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  The glass half full in me believes Lee is right there with Hunter Ritter, Eric Schultz, Bobby Steveson, Jackson Striggow, David-Brian Whisler, and perhaps Matt Correnti.


Waiting in the Wings for Illinois:  The Illini are need of depth in their upper weights.  Lee would likely be spelled by veteran Brian Burns if needed.



Heavyweight- Deuce Rachal- Sr.

Breakdown:  I really like this guy.   He’s a pure go-for-broke homerun hitter and he’s built a little like Babe Ruth.  He’s got surprising hips and will throw you if you hang around upstairs with him.   Rachal was shoe-horned into the lineup after Brooks Black went down with a career ending injury.  He has been better than expected for a guy with limited prep credentials.  He is a martial arts kid with a background in karate and jiu-jitsu.  Tough minded, fearless, and relatively dangerous.  Rachal battles hard and is fun to watch.  He’s not going to light the world on fire, but he will surprise some guys again this year.  I hope he can sneak into the NCAAs.  


Best Wins: Conan Jennings, Gannon Gremmel 


Worst Losses:  Mark Penyacsek, Razohnn Gross 


Most Anticipated Match-Ups:  David Jensen, Conan Jennings, Trent Hillger, Chase Singletary should be fun.


Waiting in the Wings:  IHSA champion Matt Wroblewski.  Illinois signed Fargo Champ Luke Luffman



Team Breakdown: 

The Orange and Blue are firmly in a period of transition.  The Mark Perry years ushered in a bevy of out-of-state blue chippers like Isaiah Martinez, Jesse Delgado, Zach Brunson, Nikko Reyes, Brooks Black, Jackson Morse, and Stephen Rodrigues.  At least until they didn’t.  And during the final few years of Perry, they didn’t.   The Illini stopped landing the big time out-of-state recruits.  In the meantime, the largely national recruiting platform had cost the Illini some of its foothold with home grown recruits.  As the recruiting began to wane, Perry left for Hawkeye WC.   Enter Mike Poeta and Bryan Medlin.  In a clear effort to change the recruiting focus back to the homeland, Heffernan brought in two great coaches with deep roots in Illinois prep and club wrestling.  From a recruiting standpoint, it seems to have worked.  They are definitely landing a higher cut of Illinois talent and are once again landing kids who own stop signs from Fargo.  This season the Illini bring in Zach and Danny Braunagel, both homegrown Fargo champions.  Additionally, they have inked homegrown Fargo champions Luke Luffman and Fabian Lopez.  Rising start Danny Pucino from Poeta’s club program has verballed to Illinois.    Joey Gunther transferred home.  Colin Carr transferred home.   The roster, once half full with out-of-state wrestlers, now has just two kids from beyond the Land of Lincoln.  Ultimately, only time will tell if this recruiting shift pays big dividends, but it is refreshing to see Illinois kids excited about the possibility of donning the Illini singlet.  This season’s schedule is absolutely brutal.  I would venture to say that Illinois has the single toughest dual meet schedule in the country.  They dual Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, Bono and the Badgers, Northwestern, and MSU.  It is going to be a rough ride in duals, however this team will be prepared for March.  Last year, Dylan Duncan, Mikey Carr, and Emery Parker surprised in March.  This year, it may be Piotrowski or Gunther or Andre Lee.  One thing is for sure, the Illini will be “sneaky-good” this year and the future is once again looking brighter. 

Edited by sludgeworth

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Excellent breakdown. Well written and informative.


I think Illinois gets 1-2 AAs from 125-149. Barone won’t get it, but if they shuffle the lineup, Carr could AA at 149.


I think Parker is there only other AA.


So best case, 3 AAs, 2 would be my best guess but 1 is certainly possible


I hope Illinois figures out how to get the top guys in state. They don’t seem to have much momentum behind them right now.

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Always look forward to your overviews sludgeworth, thanks for taking the time to do them every year.  I agree that that Illini are in a transition period and they really need to step up this year and create some momentum.  A serious lack of star power on this team with I-Mart gone, while I have faith in Poeta as a replacement for Perry - they could use some momentum to get some elite recruits in town. 




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I like Carr a lot. I thought for sure he'd AA last year after his Big Ten tourney.


Poeta on staff really adds to their Brand. Always liked that dude.

He almost did. Freshman mistake cost him. If he hasn’t let up in his r12 match, he likely would’ve won. In fact, if they wrestle again, he would be a 4:1 favorite or so

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Kinda buried the lede here - Gunther transferred?

He did! Not sure how helpful that will be for NCAA points, but he certainly has good training partners in Illinois. He did at Iowa too though.


Happy for him. Always seemed like a good guy. Glad he gets another chance to start and prove himself

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Gunther may be dangerous this year: (i) accustomed to battling bigger/stronger guys at 174, (ii) true middle weight coach (Poeta > Morningstar), and (iii) defensive style that keeps him within a takedown of almost everyone.


I also have high hopes for Parker this year.


If all U of I does is keep in-state talent in-state, they'll field some pretty solid teams.

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Gunther may be dangerous this year: (i) accustomed to battling bigger/stronger guys at 174, (ii) true middle weight coach (Poeta > Morningstar), and (iii) defensive style that keeps him within a takedown of almost everyone.


I also have high hopes for Parker this year.


If all U of I does is keep in-state talent in-state, they'll field some pretty solid teams.

Fair enough. I don’t think his training situation improved all that much, but maybe he jumps levels.


It is going to be beey difficult for Parker to improve upon his performance. I know he has a win over Myles, but Myles is a pretty significant favorite over him. If Zahid moves up, Zahid will be a huge favorite too. You also have a bunch of other talented guys who will be in the running too. Venz was only a freshman last year. Same with Max Dean. Unless Parker jumps levels again, 3rd might be his ceiling.


To be clear, I’ve said Parker is a force going back years. I picked him to AA last year (16/17) as well as 17/18, although that clearly didn’t pan out.

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Great work Sludgeworth.  You flash literary skill and insight with equal measure.  IMO, the Illini are the next "sleeping giant."  I have admiration for Jim Heffernan but if you replace him with the right coach and keep the best Illinois studs home, you can catch up to Michigan and possibly Iowa. 

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Slow clap. That was an awesome read. Thank you sludgeworth. That damn thing is going to make me pay more attention to the Illinois guys this year. Has raised my interest in the program. Well done.

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Illinois Fingthing: What's a fing thing? Some sort of hand gesture?


A fling thing is:


a)  a dog toy

b)  a song by AC/DC

c)  an Internet hookup site

d)  all of the above


The correct answer wins this shirt:



Edited by HurricaneWrestling

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On 9/21/2018 at 3:22 PM, HurricaneWrestling said:

Now we have two things --fling and fing. A fling thing is something you fling with your finger and I leave that to the reader's  imagination. Still can't can't nail down fing thing.

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