Illinois Wrestling Team Wraps Up Season With 4 All-Americans

The Illinois wrestling team began its season ranked eighth, with two All-Americans and only one senior starter on the squad.

Juniors B.J. Futrell and Jordan Blanton became two-time All-Americans, and junior Conrad Polz and freshman Jesse Delgado took home their first honors at this year’s NCAA Championships. The team scored 62 points en route to a seventh-place finish.

The first of many positives for the Illini this season was a 6-0 start. Their first loss, which came to then No. 1-ranked Iowa, saw the Illini squander a 13-12 lead with only two bouts left. One of the victories for the Illini that day was Delgado’s win over eventual 125-pound national champion Matt McDonough, his only loss of the season.

Lost in the shuffle of the team’s fast start were the commitments for the future.

First-year associate head coach Mark Perry, who came to Illinois from California Polytechnic State University, showed his West Coast influence, as the Illini received letters of intent from Zac Brunson of Oregon and Nikko Reyes of California.

The Illini also received commitments from John Fahy of Kentucky and in-state wrestler Zane Richards.

“Our assistant coaches put in all the time with our guys, and I’m really excited about our program,” head coach Jim Heffernan said.

The Illini then went on to win their next four meets before falling to eventual National Duals champion Minnesota, 26-9. The score was not a fair display of the meet, however, as the Illini dropped many close bouts.

Just as they did after the loss to Iowa, the Illini won their next four dual meets, closing the season with a 14-2 record, the most wins since the 2004-05 campaign.

For the National Duals, the Illini were the No. 2 seed in the Cornell Regional. After receiving a first-round bye, the Illini dropped Oklahoma 21-18 and dealt the No. 1 seed Cornell its only loss of the season, defeating the Big Red 19-16.

Illinois joined Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma State in the Final Four.

The Illini were pitted against No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma State, which coincidentally was the team that defeated Illinois the last time it reached the National Duels in 2005.

The meet was eerily similar to a loss against Iowa earlier during the season, as the Illini once again lost a lead with two matches remaining. They ended up taking fourth.

Though he wasn’t the favorite heading into the Big Ten Championships, sophomore Mario Gonzalez took home the title at 197 pounds, and the team finished fourth.

“I was real excited for this tournament, and I ended up winning it,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and the Illini rode the momentum from the Big Ten Championships into the NCAA Championships, with seven of the 10 starters earning spots in the tournament that determined the individual champions at each weight.

Senior starter Eric Terrazas, along with fellow senior Martin Smith, are the only nonreturning wrestlers for next season, demonstrating the bright future for the Illini.