The three-time All-American from the University of Illinois is left unsatisfied.
A two-time Big Ten champion, two-time NCAA finalist, and a three-time All-American would be considered by most a successful college career. Not according to Mike Poeta.
"Honestly, in college, I didn't achieve as much as I really wanted to. I fell short of winning the NCAA title," said Poeta. "That's why I'm putting so much time and effort into this level to get the sour taste out of my mouth from college. This is the highest level; it will make up for anything in college."
Poeta is set out to achieve wrestling dreams that he fell short of in college.
So far this year, Poeta is off to a strong start at the Senior level. By defeating 2009 World Team member Trent Paulson, he claimed the 74 kg victory at the World Cup wrestle-offs held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., in January. Poeta will join the rest of the U.S. World Cup Team to compete in Russia, March 6-7.
Freestyle's National Team Coach Zeke Jones believes that Poeta is showing all the right signs in training and competition.
"He is competing well domestically right now and will finally get his first major international test at the World Cup this weekend," explains Jones. "As all of our new American wrestlers competing for the first time on the international stage, we expect them to go out and dominate from the start."
Graduating college less than a year ago, Poeta has not had much international experience. "When I watch film, it's really starting to sink in that I'm just as good as these guys. I'm completely on the level of these guys getting World and Olympic medals," Poeta explains. "I see no reason that I shouldn't be fighting for Olympic and World titles."
Jones is confident that Poeta, who competes for the Lehigh Valley AC, will have continued success on the Senior level.
"Mike has really emerged in the last few months on the Senior level which was no surprise to me. That's why I let him wrestle off. He's got great speed and his freestyle skills are coming along. If he focuses the small nuances of freestyle wrestling and builds on his conditioning from Cuba, he'll be ready," said Jones.
In college, Poeta suffered an injury that resulted in three knee surgeries and six months off the mat. The timing was detrimental to his dream of capturing a Div I NCAA Championship title as a senior.
"It was the longest I've been off the mat since I was five," said Poeta. "It was hard to swallow to know that I was in the finals with such a short season (two months) and wrestling the way I am now."
Knowing it was his last year in college, Poeta did everything possible, outside of wrestling, to stay in shape and stay sharp.
Now more ready than ever, Poeta is excited about his first major Senior level international competition.
"I'm a 100% now. I'm the best I've ever been by far. I put so much pressure on myself in college. Once the NCAAs were done; I had a huge weight lifted off my back," explained Poeta. "I'm having fun with wrestling. Right now, I'm so much better than I was in college." Assistant National Freestyle Coach Bill Zadick believes that Poeta has an abundance of skill and ability.
"Poeta has showed a lot of potential in the practice room. He's a young guy, fresh on the freestyle scene that has shown success up through the ranks in college," said Zadick. "Poeta has a quick, explosive offense, plus the willingness to learn and a hard work ethic."
Although never an NCAA champion, by all measures, Poeta was a successful Div. I wrestler. At Illinois, he was the second in career winning percentages at .882 and was only the 10th three-time All-American in school history. His college career ended with 105 victories.
He placed third at the 2007 NCAA Championships followed by NCAA runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2009. He won at numerous tournaments, such as: 2007 & 2008 Midlands and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
Poeta's had an early start on his career when he began wrestling at the age of five. His dad ran the junior wrestling league where he grew up. It was a family sport, and Mike joined his dad, uncle, cousins, and others as a wrestler.
In high school, he was a two-time individual Illinois state champion at 140 pounds as a junior (2003) and 152 pounds as a senior (2004) for Highland Park.
Griff Powell, Poeta's high school coach and Mark Johnson, his college coach, had an influence on Poeta beyond wrestling and into lifestyle influences.
"I built such a close relationship with my coaches. I wanted to wrestle for myself, but also for them," said Poeta.
Now an assistant wrestling coach at Illinois, Poeta realizes the challenges that come along with coaching.
"It's tough. It's definitely a lot more mentally draining, coaching than if you are actually competing. Every time there's a guy up you have to wrestle the match with them," states Poeta, "It's a learning experience. The more days I spend helping and coaching the guys, the better I get."
The demands of coaching have not put a halt to training for wrestling. The head coach of Illinois, Jim Heffernan, has been as supportive as possible in allowing Poeta as much leeway as he needs to train.
Poeta primarily trains at the Illinois campus where he physically and mentally prepares himself for competitions. He also trains with Keith Gavin from Lehigh Valley AC.
"I try to just bring everything possible to the wrestling room. That's what translates into matches," expresses Poeta. "You can't take the backseat at practice and expect to have that emotion and intensity in matches. You have to have it every day in the practice room."
Poeta's intensity and determination along with his talent will make him hard to defeat.
"I look for a lot of exciting things to come out of him in the future," said Zadick.