Former Champaign Central wrestling coach Jeff Scott is in St. Louis for the NCAA meet. His report from Friday:
The second day of this tournament is always such a treat for wrestling fans. Quarterfinal matches are wrestled in the morning’s first round, and winners of these matches are automatic NCAA All-Americans. Illinois is wrestling pretty well and continues to make a good showing. The morning quarterfinal round was not real kind to the Illini, who dropped two of the three matches that were wrestled.
There were some interesting developments in the morning that made for a highly intense and controversial round for the Illini. At 125 pounds, Jesse Delgado was in what some might argue the most exciting match of the day. A typical match lasts three periods, but this particular match was decided in the ninth period.
Delgado looked to be defeated in the fourth period, but points were removed from his opponent’s total because of a controversial call that would have ended the match for Delgado. This sent the match into more overtimes. In the ninth period, Delgado was leading with about 15 seconds to go when his opponent made a great move to take Delgado to his back and earn a four-point lead. It was a difficult loss for Delgado and meant he would need to win one more match to be an All-American.
B.J. Futrell was amazing in his quarterfinal match. Futrell got off to a really fast start and took his opponent down in about 25 seconds. Futrell quickly turned his opponent to his back and secured a pin in 33 seconds. Through three matches, Futrell had secured three pins. His next task was to wrestle the top-ranked guy in the country, Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State.
At 174, a really interesting development occurred. Jordan Blanton was about to face off against Chris Perry of Oklahoma State. Perry’s brother is Mark Perry, the associate head coach of the Illini. Mark Perry is always in the corner for Blanton, but it must have been difficult to be in the corner coaching against his little brother. I must admit it would be hard to coach against my brother, but I certainly admire Mark Perry’s commitment to his guys and his program. Blanton lost in overtime, 3-2. Perry could be found later in the evening rooting for his little brother to make it to the championship match. Chris Perry lost in the semifinals but will have a chance to finish in the top three.
At the end of the third round, Illinois had one guaranteed All-American (Futrell) and still had five of its six remaining wrestlers alive for All-America status.
The evening round Friday was a great event. Winners in the first round Friday evening either make it to the finals or guarantee themselves a top-eight finish. And what a solid round for Illinois it was. Jesse Delgado was the first to achieve All-America status with a big win against Missouri’s Alan Waters, who was seeded third. Futrell lost in the semifinals, but the Illini bounced back with big wins from Conrad Polz and Jordan Blanton. Both had great matches and now can tell people they are All-Americans. The round was not so good to Tony Dallago or Mario Gonzalez. Both came up one win short of All-America status, losing in the round of 12.
Penn State continues to dominate the college wrestling scene. Of the 10 weight classes contested this weekend, Penn State has a finalist in five of the weights. The Nittany Lions are far ahead of the pack in the team race, and any doubt about the shift in dominance from Iowa to Penn State is over for now. Penn State will enter the final day of the NCAAs with a 40-point lead, and the Nittany Lions have guaranteed themselves their second straight NCAA tournament title.
Four All-Americans is a great showing for Illinois this year. Saturday is a day full of place matches, and the Illini have to be happy to be so busy coaching and competing. Illinois has had a great two days. Now the Illini are looking to move up to some higher places, but after today, the Illini will definitely finish in the Top 10 this year. With nine of 10 starters returning and four returning All-Americans, next season should be a great year for the Fighting Illini. Next year’s tournament is in Des Moines, Iowa, and a chance for a trophy is definitely within reach. Go Illini!