Illini travel to take on 3-time defending champ Penn State

By Daniel Dexter

Following another Big Ten loss, this time against Michigan, associate head coach Mark Perry gathered his team before practice and explained that he is not satisfied with mediocrity.

Perry has large goals for the Illinois wrestling team in the coming years, all of which have been accomplished by the Illini’s opponent this Friday: Penn State.

Although Perry expects the dual in State College, Pa., to have an exciting environment with a hostile packed gym, he doesn’t see this meet being any different than any other dual Illinois has had.

“It’s just another dual meet to me, and even to our guys,” Perry said. “Obviously they are three-time defending national champs, and this is the best they have had in the past four years. So we are aware of what they have, but for us, it’s just a process of getting to the national tournament.”

The dual will also feature a rematch of last year’s 125-pound national title match, which ended with redshirt junior Jesse Delgado defeating Penn State’s Nico Megaludis. Delgado has called Megaludis his rival and is excited for the opportunity to face him again.

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“I think we have a better game plan than them, but it will come down to whoever wants it more will win,” Delgado said.

Perry said opponents have been wrestling a more defensive game plan against Delgado. In his one loss this season, his opponent didn’t take any shots and won by being more conservative.

Perry pointed out that Delgado has not been wrestling to his potential and that this Friday’s match is a good opportunity to get him back on track.

“If he goes in there and gets a win over a guy of that caliber, it will kick start him to where he wants to be,” Perry said. “Regardless, he is going to perform where he wants in the end.”

Besides Delgado’s struggles, the team will once again go into a meet without two starters in Steven Rodrigues and Mario Gonzalez. Perry has been frustrated by Illinois’ injuries and believes the Illini would have a perfect record if the team would’ve been healthy the whole season.

“In this conference when you have two or three guys out every week, it’s almost impossible to win,” Perry said. “We are going up to Penn State where they have dominated everybody this season. We have two guys who will be sitting out again, so basically we are two matches down.”

Although the team may have difficulty coming out with a win, Perry sees this meet as a good opportunity for younger wrestlers like redshirt freshman Zane Richards to develop even further.  

Richards shared the sentiment of his coach and looks forward to the chance to wrestle in the house of the three-time defending champs. He feels he has taken the next step mentally toward becoming an elite wrestler, and he is confident in his game plan heading into the dual.

“I’m looking to go out there and dominate the kid,” Richards said. “To do that, I have to stay in position and not get wild. I have to wrestle where I’m good and let the chips fall from that point.”

Perry is confident in his team’s ability to battle hard against the Nittany Lions and has high hopes for the younger members in the future. Duals like this one are exactly what they need to meet those expectations.

“These young guys who we expect to make an impact in the future are getting the chance to wrestle the best guys in the nation in front of a huge crowd that’s going to be booing and calling stalling,” Perry said. “Nothing seasons you like duals like that.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.