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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    2022-23 Big Ten Preview (Part One)

    Iowa's 2x NCAA All American Tony Cassioppi (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    The most competitive and powerful conference in college wrestling was just too big for a regular-sized preview, so we've divided it into two-parts. Our two Big Ten correspondents, Kevin Claunch and Lauren Muthler, have previewed seven schools a piece. Their names are next to the school's they've written about below.

    The preview has teams listed in alphabetical order, so part one is Illinois-Minnesota. Nebraska-Wisconsin will drop shortly, as well.

    Team: Illinois (Lauren Muthler)

    Illinois 2x All-American Lucas Byrd (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    Illinois will bring a young but experienced team into the 2022-23 season. Last season, seven of the Illini's starters were either freshmen or sophomores. Those wrestlers are all back and coach Mike Poeta said they were able to fill some of their other lineup holes. "All the guys coming back will be one year better, one year older and one year more mature," Poeta said. "I think we're really going to start turning into the team that I know we are and what I expect. And I have really high expectations."

    Top returners:

    Lucas Byrd finished last season with a bang, rallying back from a first-round NCAA tournament loss to pin No. 4-seed Korbin Myers, of Virginia Tech, to take fifth. Byrd is ranked No. 5 to start his junior campaign and will again be the focal point of his team's lineup at 133 pounds. He led the team last year with 27 wins, 39 dual points and a perfect 10-0 dual record. But beyond the consistency and points that he brings to the lineup, he also brings mental toughness and a spark of inspiration to his teammates.

    "He thrives under the flights as good as it gets," Poeta said. "A lot of kids succumb to pressure and nerves but Byrd thrives on it. His run at the NCAA tournament was really special."

    Justin Cardani at 125 pounds, along with Byrd, provides Illinois with an early jolt and a chance to start duals with a solid lead. Cardani, last year's 125-pound Matmen Open champ, has been a sturdy piece of Illinois' lineup for the past two years but struggled a bit down the stretch to end last season. He'll start the season ranked No. 23 in what promises to be a loaded class in the Big Ten.

    Newcomers/wrestlers to watch

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