Illini split Big Ten weekend on the road

By Daniel Dexter

After a 31-3 loss to three-time defending champion Penn State on Friday, the Illinois wrestling team turned around its fortunes Sunday by defeating Michigan State 29-6.

In Friday’s rematch of the 2013 125-pound national championship match, associate head coach Mark Perry challenged a call of a takedown by Penn State’s Nico Megaludis on national champion Jesse Delgado. Perry believed Megaludis never got full control of both of Delgado’s legs for the takedown, but the referees disagreed and the call stood. That two-point takedown ended up being the difference in the match as Delgado was defeated by a score of 5-4.

“It was a just a very biased call, but that will probably fuel the fire for Jesse,” Perry said. “He knows that. This is his time to turn it up to the next gear, and if he can get into the same zone as he was in the last seven weeks of last season, then we will get the same result. Anytime it’s hard to lose, but it’s really hard to lose that way.”

Feeling the frustration of the loss, Delgado put his talent on display two days later against Michigan State’s Brenan Lyon by taking him down seven times leading to a victory by technical fall.

The only Illinois wrestler to win both of his matches this weekend was redshirt freshman Zane Richards, who shared the disappointment of the rest of the team despite his success.

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“It’s not great feeling to be the only one on your team to win,” Richards said. “You want your team to be successful. Looking back, there were a lot of matches that we should have won.”

Richards also felt his own wrestling was far from perfect this weekend. He missed on shot opportunities that were open to him, which he said was a result of second guessing himself; however, Perry was more positive with the takeaways from the Penn State dual, feeling that the losses will only make the younger members of the team better.

“I think our young guys competed pretty well but made a couple of mistakes in certain places,” Perry said. “We were the aggressor in some matches but found a way to lose; however, these kinds of things for these sophomores and freshmen will harden them and show them where they’re at.”

Illinois found ways to win in its dual against Michigan State, which Richards believes was fueled by the loss two days earlier.

“I think there was more energy (Sunday) from most of the guys,” Richards said. “This team was not quite as good as Penn State, so we came in today looking to do well and beat the hell out of the Spartans. And that’s what we did for the most part.”

Along with the difference in talent level between the Illini’s two opponents this weekend, there was also a significant difference in attendance at the duals, as Penn State was able to pack the gym while Michigan State’s crowd was more sparse. With Nebraska coming to town on Friday, Perry is hoping to begin attracting crowds the size of Penn State’s with the talent Illinois has.

“When you are at the top of heap, that’s what brings fans in,” Perry said. “(Friday) night there were people standing in the back with no room to move. With the talent of wrestling in the state of Illinois and what we have coming in the future, we feel that we are capable of that. It’s our job to market that to people and let them know what is going to be at Illinois in the upcoming years.”

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