Star power and depth key for Illini wrestling

Illinois’ Jesse Delgado locks arms with Kent State’s Edilberto Vinas during the match at Huff Hall on Sunday. The Illini won 38-0.

By Kieran Hampl

When picking my articles each week, I like to be as unbiased as possible. I try to write about each Illinois sport instead of constantly writing about the same one or two, but with that said, I’ve done a very poor job providing the wrestling team with the attention it deserves.

In recent memory, the Illini wrestling team has been one of the most consistent programs on campus and this year is no different. Currently, the team is 13-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten. The team is on a five-match winning streak, four of which were against Big Ten foes. The margin of victory for the Illini has been incredibly large — their closest victory was a five-point win over Wisconsin.

The team began its postseason endeavors last weekend, defeating Kent State 38-0 in the regional of the NWCA National Dual tournament. With eight teams remaining in the field, the Illini are set to face the second-seeded Missouri Tigers on Saturday.

Despite Missouri boasting a 21-0 record on the year, the Illini have a better chance than people may think. Illinois is 20-9 all-time against Missouri and will post a tougher challenge than the Tigers have seen all season.

The National Duals is just a test to see how teams will perform come Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Of the eight teams left in the NWCA tournament, four are in the Big Ten, demonstrating just how strong the conference is and how crucial consistency is during this final stretch.

Throughout the course of the season, as a result of injuries, the team has built more depth than in years past. They’ve had several standout performers all year: Zane Richards, Jackson Morse, Isaiah Martinez and Zac Brunson are all contenders for national titles. Also, two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado has recently returned from injury and holds a 6-0 record on the year.

Of the group, Delgado and Martinez are the most likely to dominate throughout the postseason. Martinez is 26-0 on the year and just was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week. Of his 26 wins, 19 have been by major decision or better. He is 6-0 against ranked opponents and currently No. 2 in the country in the 157-pound weight class.

This season’s team not only has the star power that teams in the past haven’t had, but also demonstrates a huge amount of consistency and depth throughout the lineup. With a long month ahead against top competition, the question will be whether the Illini can answer the call and step up to the plate.

Kieran is a sophomore in Business. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @KHampl95.