No. 20 Illini wrestling heads to Vegas Invitational confident despite shorthanded lineup

The injury bug is a part of sports that is unavoidable. It will bite every team at some point, and right now, it has its sights set on the Illinois wrestling team.

“We’re gonna have to see who’s standing at this point,” head coach Jim Heffernan said of the Illini’s current injury situation.

The No. 20 Illini will head to Primm, Nev., this weekend for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational sporting some new faces in the starting lineup, as four of the team’s preseason starters will be out of action, three due to injuries.

Sophomore Eric Terrazas, who has wrestled to a surprising 4-0 start at 149 pounds and is currently the third-highest Illinois dual-point scorer, will be held out this weekend, along with fellow sophomores Jordan Blanton and B.J. Futrell. Futrell has yet to wrestle since the dual season began more than three weeks ago.

Junior John Deneen will continue to wrestle in Futrell’s place at 125 pounds after compiling a 3-1 record, including two major decisions.

Blanton will likely be replaced at 174 pounds by junior Joe Barczak, who will be seeing his first action this season as a starter. Senior Clint Arlis will also miss out on this weekend’s action due to academic obligations and will likely be replaced at 157 pounds by redshirt freshman Kyle Dooley.

The news isn’t all bad, however, as senior Patrick Bond is expected to return to his spot at 197 pounds after missing the Sprawl and Brawl.

“With the lineup we’re bringing out there (to the Invitational), I’ll be interested to see how we do. I think, just like anything else, we’re going to go out there and compete hard and hopefully learn something,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan will get a chance to see how his Illini do against some of the stiffest competition in the country, as the Invitational will host 12 of the nation’s top 25 teams, including three of the top 10 in No. 4 Ohio State, No. 7 Boise State and No. 9 Cornell.

“It’s probably the toughest tournament this side of the Midlands,” junior Ryan Prater said. “There’s a lot of tough teams there, a couple Big Ten teams and East Coast teams and a lot of nation-ranked kids. And we’re bringing a young team in here, but we’re definitely confident.”

Despite the daunting task of such opponents, the competition could be a good indicator of where Illinois is at early in the season.

“It’s kind of a smaller simulation of the national tournament,” senior John Dergo said. “Each weight class has a good two, three or four returning All-Americans in there, so each match you have to be prepared. You have to be ready to wrestle.”

The Illini have made the trip to the Invitational the past two years, and 10 of 13 overall, and have earned seven top-5 finishes as a team.

Bond earned a fifth-place individual finish in 2007, the same year that Dergo also finished sixth.

Prater also earned an eighth-place individual finish at last year’s event, while Barczak went 3-2 overall and was only defeated by nationally ranked opponents.