Road trip feels like home for some Illinois wrestlers

By Ethan Swanson

Coming off a dominating performance at its home opener Sunday, the Illinois wrestling team will travel to California this weekend to test its talent against a gang of West Coast opponents. Although the Illini will be more than 2,000 miles from Huff Hall on a mere four-day turnaround from their last action on the mats, some Illinois wrestling members may be more motivated than ever before.

On Friday, the Illini will face Appalachian State and Cal State-Bakersfield in Gilroy, California: the hometown of three-time All-American Jesse Delgado. The state of California has long awaited to see its champion return to The Golden State. Illinois has not traveled to California during Delgado’s career. 

Unfortunately, Gilroy natives still will not see their favorite son in action. Delgado will not wrestle this weekend due to precautionary measures advised by the team doctor regarding an undisclosed injury; however, Delgado still expressed his desire for his teammates to perform at a championship-caliber level in front of a hometown crowd.

“It’ll feel good to be back at home,” Delgado said. “These guys know what they need to do in this quick turnaround, and I’ll be there to cheer them on.”

From Gilroy, the team journeys to Lemoore, California, to take on Grand Canyon University. The nostalgic feelings don’t end when the team arrives at its destination Saturday, the feelings only originate from a different Illini member: redshirt freshman Isiah Martinez, who is from Lemoore.

“It’s nice to finally see it come full circle, and I’m able to wrestle in front of my community,” Martinez said. “The coaches and I talked about this when I was getting recruited, ‘We’ll definitely come back,’ they said. I always put on a show, so it’s going to be fun.”

The team wraps up the weekend with the Roadrunner Invitational Sunday in Fresno, California. It is unknown if the team scheduling and team recruitment departments collaborate with one another, but it is known that another Illini wrestling member will be wrestling on his home turf Sunday. Fresno, California, native and redshirt sophomore Nikko Reyes voiced his ambition for making a statement this Sunday in familiar surroundings of his own.

“I have some pretty good competition there: Oregon State, North Carolina. Both those guys are in the top 20,” Reyes said of two of his opponents. “It’s going to be a good practice for the postseason, when you’ll have to wrestle three days in row and weigh in three times. That third day, everyone is tired, and everyone is sore. It just makes you tougher.”

This weekend will be the first true test for the No. 11 Illinois wrestling team with other top-20 teams in the mix. With what seems to be the entire state of California in their corner, the Illini will look to thrust themselves further upon the national stage as they enter the bulk of their nonconference schedule.

Ethan can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @EthanSwanson88.