Illinois wrestling’s Delgado and Morse ready for senior night

Illinois%E2%80%99+Jesse+Degaldo+makes+a+move+against+his+opponent+during+the+opening+match+of+the+season+against+SIUE+at+Huff+Hall+on+Sunday%2C+Nov.+9.+The+Illini+won+44-0

Illinois’ Jesse Degaldo makes a move against his opponent during the opening match of the season against SIUE at Huff Hall on Sunday, Nov. 9. The Illini won 44-0

By Ethan Swanson

Sunday will not be the last time Illinois faces Wisconsin in a Big Ten conference dual meet, but it will be the last time seniors Jackson Morse and Jesse Delgado take the mat against a conference opponent at Huff Hall. 

Sunday is senior night, and although Morse and Delgado both hope to wrestle well into March, the arrival of their last conference dual is significant: rarely does Illinois graduate two wrestlers of this caliber.

Morse, a redshirt senior, has been on campus longer than any other current Illini wrestler. After coming to Illinois as the No. 1-ranked recruit at his weight, he became a four-year starter for the Illini at 165 pounds and in that time compiled a 84-38 career record. Currently ranked No. 8 nationally in his weight class, Morse is a two-time NCAA qualifier and is looking to do more than just qualify in his final season at Illinois. 

“A national title would be the perfect way to end my season,” Morse said. “I’ve picked up things every year I’ve been here, I’ve gotten a lot better since (assistant coach Mark Perry) came here after my freshman year and I think that’s pretty evident in my style of wrestling now.”

While Morse has been successful, few Illini past or present can claim the same level of success as Delgado. 

Delgado has been the face of Illinois wrestling since following his then-head coach Mark Perry to Champaign in 2011 following his freshman season at Cal Poly. One of only two Illini wrestlers to win back-to-back national titles in the last 57 years, Delgado has earned All-American honors all three years at Illinois. Delgado is 4-0 this season in spite of suffering a shoulder injury in the Illini’s home opener, and brings a 95-13 overall career record to Sunday’s meet. Despite past achievements, Delgado emphasized the need to keep improving.

“I didn’t even realize it was the last conference meet,” Delgado said. “I’m still just trying to get momentum. You still pick up little things here and there that you struggle with, and that just gives you another opportunity to get better.”

Neither Morse nor Delgado are Illinois natives. Morse is from Alto, Michigan, and Delgado is from Gilroy, California, but both seniors credit Illinois with giving them a sense of community they will enjoy their whole lives. 

“Community is a big thing here,” Morse said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know all these guys; they’re like my family. Being from Michigan, I don’t get to go home much. But I always have these guys to lean on.”

“I still keep in touch with teammates that have graduated,” Delgado added. “I’ve built a lot of friendships here.”

Morse and Delgado will always be remembered for their success, but head coach Jim Heffernan believes their character is what should define their time here at Illinois.

“The end result, to me, is how a guy progresses emotionally and in maturity,” Heffernan said. “It’s always a bittersweet feeling seeing those guys come out on senior night. The goal of our program, when they come in, is to be a national champion, be productive, get a degree and become great people. Those two definitely fit that bill.”

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