No. 17 Illini wrestling splits up, heads to New York and Missouri

Most of the time in college sports when teams lose, they drop in the rankings. At best, the team can usually only hope to remain in the same spot. What is almost never seen is a team losing and moving up in the rankings.

However, the Illinois wrestling team has managed to do just that.

Despite losing a close match to the Missouri Tigers in their season opener on Nov. 12, the Illini actually moved up two spots, from No. 19 to No. 17, in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.

The Illini will look to defend their new ranking Sunday when the team splits up, with the starters heading to Vestal, N.Y., for the Journeyman/ASICS Sprawl and Brawl and most of the reserves traveling back to Columbia, Mo., for the Missouri Open.

The Sprawl and Brawl will pit Illinois against West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Davidson in three separate dual matches. Last year, the Illini handed the Mountaineers and Panthers 26-19 and 26-10 losses, respectively. Illinois has never faced Davidson in a dual match.

“I think it’s good,” head coach Jim Heffernan said when asked about having three matches in one day in the early portion of the schedule. “It’s difficult, you know, wrestling three times in five hours and getting yourself ready to compete again, warming up, cooling down. But it’s a good learning experience more than anything, more of a tournament setting. And that’s a good thing.”

Sophomore B.J. Futrell echoed those feelings, saying that the format “gives us time to analyze where we are as a team, and gives us an opportunity to see where we need to improve and where we’re doing good.”

Senior Patrick Bond will look to use this weekend to bounce back from a tough defeat last Thursday. Despite being ranked No. 12 at 197 pounds, Bond was taken down by Missouri redshirt freshman Brent Haynes, who was making his first career start.

“Just like most of the time with Patrick, it’s all up to him (how he responds). If Patrick wants to open up and wrestle, then he’s going to have a lot of success. If he doesn’t, then he’s going to have a lot of closed matches and always take the chance of getting upset. It’s pretty simple with him, and he knows that, and we’ve been talking to him about it for three years,” Heffernan said.

The loss dropped Bond to No. 18 in the latest rankings. Junior Ryan Prater also fell from No. 13 to No. 17 at 141 pounds, despite scoring a 15-9 win against the Tigers’ Todd Schavrien. However, senior John Dergo (184 pounds) and sophomore Jordan Blanton (174 pounds) were both rewarded for their victories with moves up the polls. Dergo jumped from 12th to eighth, while Blanton was elevated from 12th to seventh.

Futrell, who was held out of the Missouri dual due to a minor injury, is still unsure of his status for this weekend. If he is unable to go, backup John Deneen will likely once again take his place at 125 pounds. Deneen made the most of his unexpected start against the Tigers, earning a 9-0 decision that sparked an attempted comeback by the Orange and Blue. Either way, Deneen is ready for this weekend.

“I just expect to wrestle, that’s how I prepare mentally. I do the same as I would if I think I’m going to start,” Deneen said.