Here’s what you need to know from Saturday’s action at the Big Ten meet, courtesy staff writer Bob Asmussen:
Big Ten wrestling fans apparently travel well. There were large sections of fans at Saturday’s sessions representing Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois. The evening session drew 4,116. Combined with the crowd of better than 3,000 for Session I, the total topped 7,000. Not every one of the paying customers was friendly. One fan, who was unhappy with the officiating, yelled, “C’mon, call stalling you bum.”
The Assembly Hall drew solid reviews from the visiting athletes and coaches. “As far as sightlines, it couldn’t be better,” Minnesota head assistant coach Brandon Eggum said. “Every seat has a great view. Phenomenal viewing for the fans.” For Saturday’s sessions, four mats were used at one time, leaving plenty of room on the large floor for coaches, athletes and officials. For today’s place matches, the number of mats will be reduced to three. Next time the Big Ten returns to the Assembly Hall (the event rotates among the conference schools), the building will be renovated, which could change the wrestling setup.
Two-time defending national champion Penn State did drop a dual match this season, losing at Iowa two days before shutting out Illinois at Huff Hall. But the Nittany Lions have recovered from the setback. Cael Sanderson’s team, led by undefeated 184-pounder Ed Ruth, leads the team race with 123 points. Penn State is followed by Minnesota (112.5), Iowa (109) and Ohio State (92). The Nittany Lions moved four wrestlers into Sunday’s finals. Iowa and Minnesota also have four competing for Big Ten titles.
Illinois stands fifth after Saturday night’s semifinals with 73.5 points. Michigan is next with 61. Two of the Illini reached today’s finals: 125-pounder Jesse Delgado and 165-pounder Conrad Polz. Six Illini are guaranteed spots in the NCAA meet and a seventh, 149-pounder Caleb Ervin, has a chance in today’s seventh-place match. “It’s kind of like it always is, good things, bad things,” Illinois coach Jim Heffernan said. “I think Jesse was a huge win. Conrad’s looked good. (Jordan) Blanton looked good. He didn’t wrestle so well in that last match (a semifinal loss).” If told before the meet he would have had seven NCAA qualifiers, Heffernan would have said “pretty good.” And fifth place is OK to Heffernan. “Again, we’re leaving some points on the bench. We didn’t score at heavyweight and we didn’t score at 141, and that hurts. The thing about a tournament is it’s a team event, too. We need everybody to score.”
ADs in the house
Both past and present. Ron Guenther, a high school wrestler before starring in football at Illinois in the 1960s, is a regular at the Big Ten meet. The longtime Illinois athletic director, who retired in 2011, didn’t miss Saturday’s action, attending with former Illinois coach and administrator Tom Porter. And Guenther’s replacement, Mike Thomas, was in attendance. Guenther spends most of his working time these days with the Big Ten in Chicago. On football Saturdays, he can be found in the league offices in front of a bank of television sets, monitoring all of the conference games. Guenther hired current Illinois wrestling coach Jim Heffernan, a longtime assistant who took over for his former boss, Mark Johnson.