In a little more than two years on the Illinois wrestling coaching staff, assistant coach Mike Poeta already has developed a pipeline with McHenry County wrestlers.
Before coaching at Illinois, Poeta ran Poeta Training Center in Lake Forest, coaching some of the top wrestlers in the northern suburbs. A year ago, Prairie Ridge’s Trey Piotrowski – who finished his high school career as a three-time state medalist – mentioned Poeta’s influence in his decision to attend Illinois.
Now, Marian Central’s two-time state champion Dylan Connell has announced his commitment to the Illini and cited Poeta’s tutelage as a big reason why.
“He coached me in middle school, seventh and eighth grade,” Connell said. “I’m comfortable with the coaching there, and everything just felt right.”
Connell, who will begin his junior season next month, won a Class 2A state title at 152 pounds as a freshman and another at 160 pounds as a sophomore. He helped Marian finish third at the Class 2A dual team state championships last season, the program’s first state trophy.
“When Dylan came in as a freshman, that was the goal,” Marian Central coach David Silva said. “The goal was not only to win state titles, but to get him to the level of where he’s at now. He’s getting Division I, Big Ten offers. We have achieved that goal that we set out and now we’ve got to knock out a couple more.”
Connell visited the Champaign-Urbana campus a week and a half ago. His only other visit was to Arizona State. He said he also received interest from Wisconsin, as well as some smaller schools.
Poeta was the first college coach to reach out to Connell on the day when NCAA rules allowed for wrestling coaches to contact high school juniors.
Connell said he never thought about wrestling for the Illini when he was competing at the state meet, which is held annually at State Farm Center on the Illinois campus. Even so, competing in the Big Ten always was a goal.
“That’s what my dad and I have always dreamed about: Wrestling D-I in the Big Ten and how special that would be,” Connell said. “With all that I’ve done previously through the past years of my life, it’s going to be a huge accomplishment.”
Connell said he will move up to 170 pounds this season. With two state titles to his name already, he no doubt has lofty goals for his final two years of high school wrestling. His commitment is a big moment for the Hurricanes wrestling team, too.
“That’s huge for our program,” Silva said. “Kids can come to Marian knowing that the coaches at Marian Central will get you ready to compete at the highest level.”