Illinois wrestling faces Maryland in Delgado’s return

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Illinois’ Jesse Delgado pins Rider’s Zach Valcarce during the wrestling match vs. Rider University at Huff Hall on Sunday, Nov. 9.

By Ethan Swanson

This weekend is one of a couple firsts: the first time the Illini will face Maryland as a conference opponent and the first time defending national champion Jesse Delgado returns to the Illinois lineup since suffering an injury in the Illini’s Nov. 9 home opener. On a night where Illinois will be honoring local servicemen as a part of its “Hometown Heroes” promotion, Illini wrestling will be glad to have its own hero back on the mat.

Head coach Jim Heffernan emphasized the impact Delgado’s return will have on the team for Friday and the rest of the season.

“He has looked really good in practice,” Heffernan said in a press release. “Working hard on improving his strength and technique, while maintaining his conditioning. He looks sharp and we are excited to have him back.”

“I’ve been wrestling since I was a young kid and it’s something I like to do,” Delgado added. “I’m ready to go.”

It seems Delgado could not have picked a better weekend to return to action. Maryland brings a 0-5 conference record to Huff Hall on Friday and will be the first team outside the WIN Magazine national top-25 rankings the Illini have faced in two weeks. Illinois is also 2-0 against the Terrapins all-time, their most recent meeting was in 2012 and ended in a 31-6 Illini victory. 

Sunday, the Illini will travel to Purdue, a team Illinois has much more experience with. The Illini lead the all-time series with the Boilermakers 65-27-2 — the most recent matchup concluded with a 18-16 win that also featured a Delgado victory. This weekend doubles as a chance for Delgado to ease his way back into a rigorous Big Ten schedule, and facing the Terrapins could revitalize an Illinois squad that is 3-3 in its last six meets.  

“It’s good to see someone different,” Heffernan said. “We’ve seen the Big Ten teams pretty frequently and have been wrestling them for so long that there’s a lot of rematches. To be honest, it’s refreshing to see a different team, it adds to the excitement.”

“You just have to treat it like the NCAA tournament,” added 174-pound sophomore Zac Brunson. “We all have our own individual jobs, watch our own films and study our own opponents. At the tournament, you won’t know who you have until he’s right in front of you, you just have to be ready to compete.”

Although the team views this weekend as an opportunity to escape the emotional and physical grind of traditional Big Ten wrestling, both coach Heffernan and his team said that any team that wears the “B1G” emblem is no team to be taken lightly. 

Heffernan expressed that no one can be overlooked at this point in the season, already three matches behind Minnesota for the conference lead, Illinois needs all the help it can get to make a run going into the postseason. 

“These meets are crucial,” added Brunson. “We need these wins to help keep our seeding at the Big Ten Championships and so we can keep our momentum and confidence. Although these might not be the opponents we want to face at the end of the season, these matches are great for building confidence and to help us enter the postseason at full stride.”

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