One would think being ranked No. 1 in the nation would be cause for celebration.
That's not the case for Illinois junior wrestler Mike Poeta (Highland Park) -- at least not yet.
The 157-pounder finds himself atop the national rankings thanks to his winning performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational Dec. 1. He came into the competition seeded second and ranked third in the nation; he then proceeded to beat both wrestlers ahead of him to move into the top spot.
"Winning the national championship is the only goal," said Poeta, who was also ranked No. 1 for nine weeks a year ago before claiming third place at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. "Other meets and other accomplishments don't hold a candle to what it would mean to win at nationals."
The national meet isn't until March 20-22 in St. Louis, so Poeta will use the next three months to gauge how to peak at the right time. One of the major barometers will be the Midlands Wrestling Championships at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday and Sunday.
The event is one of the sport's most prestigious regular season get-togethers and routinely attracts a who's who of the country's top individuals and teams. Poeta won the meet last year, defeating top-seeded Iowa State senior Trent Paulson en route to earning the Dan Gable Most Outstanding Wrestler Award. His top competition this year is likely to come from either Iowa State sophomore Cyler Sanderson or Pittsburgh senior Matt Kocher, who enter the meet ranked fourth and sixth in the nation, respectively.
Besides serving as a good tune-up, the Midlands also holds special meaning for Poeta because of its proximity to where he grew up. That also means he'll have a a substantial cheering section.
"It's about 10 minutes from my parents' house and I've been going to that meet since I was about five or six years old," said Poeta. "That was the biggest win I've had since getting to college because I remember looking up to the wrestlers who had won before me."
While at Highland Park, Poeta also did plenty of winning, as he claimed two individual Illinois state championships -- at 140 pounds as a junior in 2003 and at 152 pounds as a senior in 2004. He credits the coaching he received on that level for preparing him for the rigors of big-time college wrestling.
"I was put in a perfect situation in high school and I think I was as prepared as any freshman in the country," he said. "College wrestling usually takes a year or two to get accustomed to and I felt like I already had a year or two out of the way when I got here."
Besides the tactical training he received, his high school days also helped produce a sharp mental edge. So much precision is involved in wrestling, it's necessary to forge an attitude where no performance is ever good enough.
"It's not far-fetched for an opponent to get one lucky score against you and it changes the match," said Poeta of the need for perfection.
This mindset was on display in Las Vegas where Poeta won a 4-3 decision over Edinboro junior Gregor Gillespie, the 2007 national champion at 149 and this season's preseason No. 1 at 157. The triumph wasn't enough to make Poeta feel secure or satisfied, however, and the memory of the match is why he's trained so hard since.
"I had my hand raised but my head was down a little," said Poeta of beating Gillespie. "In my eyes, it was too close. You can't be satisfied with just winning."
Besides maturing physically and fine-tuning his mental edge, the biggest change Poeta has seen in his wrestling since high school involves confidence. He's gone from thinking he can compete on an elite level to knowing it, not an easy route to navigate.
"You have to visualize your picture up on the wall next to other champions," he said. "Maybe I was a champion in the eyes of my parents and coaches before, but now I'm starting to get that feeling, too."
That feeling won't happen in March if Poeta isn't in optimal physical condition. And although he still has almost two years of college wrestling left and hopefully additional international competition after his stint in Champaign, he can already tell the toll the sport is taking on his body.
"Staying healthy is such a big part of it," said Poeta. "It's not like in high school anymore where nothing hurts. I'm an old man now."
Dallas Cowboys veteran offensive tackle Flozell Adams was voted Tuesday as a starter on the NFC's Pro Bowl roster. The Proviso West graduate will be making his fourth trip to the NFL's annual all-star game, which is held each February in Honolulu, and is one of a league-high 11 Cowboys named.
This season marks the second consecutive Pro Bowl trip for Adams because he was named as an injury replacement for New Orleans' Jammal Brown after the '06 season. He made his first two Pro Bowl appearances in 2003-04 (as a starter in '03) and had that streak interrupted when he missed the last 10 games of the 2005 campaign with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Besides the games he missed in 2005, Adams has been a mainstay at left tackle in Dallas since breaking into the starting lineup in his second pro season (1999). He started 10 games as a rookie in 1998 at right guard due to injury and earned all-Rookie accolades from several sources. During his three seasons at Michigan State, Adams played on three bowl teams and the Spartans had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the three years as well.
In the two games prior to her winning the award, Long averaged 20 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as the Bluejays split games with Anderson and Wisconsin Lutheran. In the Anderson contest, she had a game-high 24 points and recorded 10 rebounds and three steals. In Elmhurst's only game last week, an 86-47 win over the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the 5-10 Long was one of five Elmhurst players in double figures, finishing with 14 points and eight boards.
Through the Bluejays' first eight games, which has produced a 3-5 record, Long leads the team in both scoring (14.3 points per game) and rebounding (6.0). As a freshman in 2006-07, Long started 24 of 25 games and was second on the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) and third in rebounding (5.4).
The Dominican University women's basketball team doesn't have forward Jessica Salinas (Neuqua Valley) to blame for its 1-9 start to the 2007-08 season. The sophomore leads the team in both scoring (19.6 points per game) and rebounding (7.6 per game) and made history in the school's loss at Wisconsin Lutheran Dec. 8.
In that contest, Salinas poured in a career-high 31 points on 14-of-14 shooting from the field, a mark that tied the NCAA record for field goal efficiency in a game. In doing so, she became only the 11th NCAA women's basketball player (all divisions) since 1982 to have a perfect night from the field with a minimum of 14 field goals. For her effort, she was named that week's Northern Athletics Conference Women's Basketball Student-Athlete of the Week.
Last year Salinas led the Stars in points (16.5), field goal percentage, free throws made, rebounds (8.4) and blocked shots (1.12). In league play as a freshman, Salinas ranked in the top ten in scoring and field goal percentage and top five in blocked shots and rebounding, including a conference-high 81 offensive boards. She also scored in double figures in all but three of Dominican's 25 games last year.
Last week's men's winner of the Northern Athletics Conference weekly basketball award was Aurora senior forward Larry Welton (Thornwood). During the week for which he was honored, Welton averaged 27.5 points, 5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in wins over Rockford College (94-70) and the Milwaukee School of Engineering (70-63). In the Rockford game, he scored 33 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field and dished out seven assists with no turnovers.
In the Spartans' only game last week, a 77-61 home win over Clarke College Wednesday, Welton scored a game-high 25 points and blocked three shots. That triumph left Aurora's season record at 8-2 and Welton averaging 21.5 points per contest, in addition to 6.4 rebounds per game and a team-high 18 blocks.
Already this year Welton has risen from seventh to third on Aurora's career scoring list and his 1,851 career points trail only Clyde Oatis (second with 2,146 points) and all-time leader and former Bull Mickey Johnson (2,453).
At the time the award was handed out, the 6-foot Bracey had recorded three double-doubles in the Redbirds' previous four games and led the MVC in field goal percentage (.550) and was second in rebounding. In ISU's only action of that week, Bracey had 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds against Miami (Ohio) Dec. 16 and followed that effort up with six points and five boards last Wednesday in a 69-56 win over Western Illinois. The Miami game was also her fourth straight outing with at least seven made field goals and at least nine rebounds.
The win over Western Illinois moved Illinois State to 9-1 on the year and Bracey heads into next week fourth on the team in scoring (9.8 points per game) and leading the roster with eight rebounds per outing. Her numbers this year are a big step up from her freshman year in 2006-07 when she appeared in only 16 games and averaged 1.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per contest.
Ball State sophomore diver Lisa Maertin (Lincoln-Way Central) has had a string of strong finishes in recent weeks.
Maertin won both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events at the House of Champions meet at IUPUI Dec. 1. The wins included scores of 240.55 in the 1-meter and 232.70 in the 3-meter. The following weekend, she came in second in the 1-meter in a home dual meet with Michigan State and bettered her winning score from the IUPUI outing with a 244.88 total.