Coach: Wrestlers showed improvement at Big Tens

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Illinois’ Jesse Delgado wrestles against Nebraska at Huff Hall on Feb. 1. Delgado won his second straight Big Ten title.

By Daniel Dexter

After a disappointing regular season, a young Illini wrestling team came into the tournament with hopes of making a statement.

With the nine wrestlers earning spots on the podium, the team finished with 78.5 points, which was enough to finish ahead of Wisconsin and Michigan. Illinois lost to both teams during the course of its regular season.

The coaching staff was adamant throughout the year that the Illini were better than their record showed. The team had to deal with injuries and inexperience all season, but head coach Jim Heffernan said the tournament showed improvement on the part of his wrestlers.

Aside from how the team finished, eight wrestlers earned automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City on March 20-22.

Despite the improvement, Heffernan said he isn’t completely satisfied with the finish because the team could have done more to get ahead of two other former regular season opponents, Ohio State and Nebraska.

“I thought that we left a lot of points on the mat,” Heffernan said. “We could have easily finished higher.”

Three redshirt freshmen place in tournament

With the young lineup the Illini brought to the tournament, redshirt freshmen Zane Richards, Zac Brunson and Nico Reyes were able to grab a spot on the podium of their respective weight classes.

Head coach Jim Heffernan praised his first time starters but also pointed out that they still made mistakes and hopes to see them finish higher next year.

Both Richards and Brunson placed in the same position they were seeded, coming in fifth and seventh, respectively.  Reyes was seeded eighth but came away with a sixth-place finish in his first time competing at the tournament.

Richards said he made some mistakes during the course of the tournament that cost him two matches, but overall he believes he wrestled his best throughout the tournament.

“You’re never really satisfied unless you win, but I can accept it more just because of how I wrestled,” Richards said.

 

Gonzalez battles soreness at Big Tens

Senior Mario Gonzalez was taken out of two matches at the Big Ten Tournament because of soreness.

The former Big Ten champion won his opening match before forfeiting his next one, which sent him to the consolation bracket. Gonzalez then went 1-1 and put himself in a position to finish seventh; however, he and coaches decided it was in his best interest to sit out the match, which gave Gonzalez an eighth-place finish.

Gonzalez sat out for a large portion of the season with nagging injuries, and he was hoping to be healthy for competition at the Big Ten Tournament. Head coach Jim Heffernan said Gonzalez will have additional time to get ready for nationals.

“We decided not to wrestle him not to take any risk of further injury,” Heffernan said. “We bought him another 10 days of recovery and training.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected]