With everything else happening this weekend (football, mens & women's basketball, volleyball, soccer), it was easy to miss the outstanding performance by Mark Johnson's U of I wrestling team on Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The #9 Illini were one of three Big Ten teams (along with Michigan State and Wisconsin) to take part in the inaugural ACC/Big Ten Clash. The Illini picked up three wins on Saturday, as they defeated North Carolina State 40-7, #21 Virginia 39-7, and North Carolina 26-9.
That the Illini picked up all three wins without two of their returning NCAA qualifiers (Mike Poeta at 157 lb. and John Dergo at 174) is a testament to the depth they have this season. Particularly impressive on Saturday was the performance of two true freshmen. B.J. Futrell went 3-0 at 125 pounds for the Illini, picking up a pair of major decisions and a forfeit. Jordan Blanton was even more dominant at 184, as he got two of his three wins by pin.
Meanwhile, three of Johnson's returning NCAA qualifiers also went 3-0 on the day. Jimmy Kennedy, ranked 4th at 133 pounds, picked up a trio of major decisions to get his season off to a good start. Roger Smith-Bergsrud (#13 at 165 lb.) also went 3-0 with three decisions in his victories. The coaching staff has been after Roger the past two seasons to open up his offense and be more aggressive. Based on Saturday's results, it looks like they'll continue to get after him. Finally, heavyweight John Wise (#6 at Hwt) was very impressive, as he picked up a pair of pins over unranked opponents before capping the day with a 3-2 decision over #13 Justin Dobies from North Carolina.
Really, the only disappointing results came from returning NCAA qualifier Patrick Bond at 197 pounds. Bond came into Saturday's event ranked 8th in the country at 197, but will surely drop in the rankings after a 1-2 day, with the only win coming by injury default.
By the way, Poeta and Dergo are both likely out until January after minor offseason knee surgeries. If both return in early January, it would give them two non-conference dual meet tuneups (West Virginia and Pittsburgh) before the conference season starts on January 25 at Iowa.
The Big Ten went 8-1 in the event, with Michigan State dropping a 23-15 decision to Virginia. Probably not what the ACC schools had in mind when they scheduled this event, but it shows once again the strength of the Big Ten conference in wrestling. Michigan State is one of only two unranked teams (along with Purdue) in the conference, and is considered by most to be the weakest team in the league this season.
Next up for the Illini is the Missouri Open, coming up this Sunday in Columbia. It is an all-day event, and results will be available at fighingillini.com at the end of the day.
More soccer coverage tomorrow. Until then...