Six Illini will compete today in the first round of the NCAA championships. Staff writer SCOTT RICHEY caught up with them before they left Champaign for Pittsburgh:
No. 4 Emery Parker (18-3)
Weight class: 184 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 29 Will Schany (14-13), Virginia
Who has been the most influential in your wrestling career?
I can name a lot. Some of the bigger ones are (Illinois assistant Mike Poeta), (Illinois coach Jim Heffernan), my dad. Those are probably the three guys I look up to the most and I've worked with the most over the past couple years. Poeta was obviously a big influence in high school and one of the major factors in me coming to Illinois and getting to the level to train to come to Illinois. Heff, clearly, once I was here helped me out individually a lot as one of the main coaches I worked with. My dad introduced me to the sport.
No. 6 Mike Carr (12-5)
Weight class: 141 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 27 Anthony Sparacio (22-9), Binghamton
What's been your most memorable experience off the mat here at Illinois?
I would say the hunting here is good. I go hunting around the area. It's my favorite thing about Illinois.
No. 11 Travis Piotrowski (20-10)
Weight class: 125 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 22 Jay Schwarm (14-10), Northern Iowa
What's a common saying from Coach Heffernan or a piece of advice he's given that's stuck with you?
Oh man, there's a lot of them. Some of them not too appropriate, but one thing that stuck out to me was last year we went over to eat at his house and he had a saying on the wall that said, "If you're not one of the 10, be one of the 80." That stuck with me. What it means is if you're not one of the 10 NCAA champions, be one of the 80 All-Americans. That's something that has pushed me to be better in the wrestling room.
No. 15 Eric Barone (18-14)
Weight class: 149 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 18 Logan Parks (20-12), Central Michigan
How did you handle having to wait for a wild-card berth into the tournament?
It was a long couple days after the (Big Ten) tournament, that's for sure. I was pretty sure I'd get the wild card because I've had a pretty good season and my weight is pretty tough in the Big Ten. It wasn't the way I wanted it to go down, but I was confident I would get the wild card. I was happy once I did because a lot of pressure was taken off my shoulders. I would have been very upset if my season ended before I was able to wrestle in this tournament.
No. 26 Joey Gunther (18-13)
Weight class: 165 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 7 Isaiah White (20-7), Nebraska
What led to you transferring from Iowa to Illinois?
A big part of it was I wanted to come back and compete for my home state. Another was my little brother (Michael) will be here next year, so I'm excited to wrestle with him next year. I've known these coaches for a long time and wanted to come back and wrestle here.
No. 30 Dylan Duncan (13-12)
Weight class: 133 pounds
First-round opponent: No. 3 Nick Suriano (24-3), Rutgers
Do you have any pre-match superstitions?
Actually, yeah. Ever since I was little I do a lot of things in threes. I'll jump three times or if I'm rolling my arms out I'll do it each way three times. It's weird.