Jeff Scott: Two Illini vying for titles
Greetings once again from the Big Ten wrestling tournament!
Local wrestling fans are very lucky this year as it’s being held in our very own Assembly Hall. No doubt this is the second-best wrestling tournament in the United States, second only to the NCAA tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, in two weeks.
This year’s Big Ten tournament features teams ranked first, third, fifth, sixth and eight in the country.
Illinois has entered a very strong team. No. 8 in the nation, however, the Illini have suffered some serious injuries (senior heavyweight Pat Walker, senior 141-pounder B.J. Futtrell) that may limit their scoring.
This event never disappoints fans. Because of the level of talent, wrestlers need to remain ready and be prepared for every match.
In Saturday’s quarterfinal round, top-seeded Eric Grajales of Michigan and Logan Storley of Minnesota were upset.
If a guy survives the grind and leaves here as the champion, they have truly accomplished something special.
I stopped by the Illinois wrestling room this week and talked with coach Jim Heffernan about the opportunity to host this tournament. He was excited to give wrestling fans in Illinois the chance to see some top-level competition. Heffernan is also excited to see a number of his ex-Illini wrestlers return to campus and be a part of the tournament festivities, including Eric Seibert, Mark Jayne, Pat Quirk, Brian Glynn and Kyle Ott.
Illinois last hosted the Big Tens in 2002. Matt Lackey (165) was a champion for the Illini that year and went on to place second at the NCAA Championships. Lackey is now the head assistant coach at Buffalo.
As always, Penn State and Iowa have traveled well and dominated the Assembly hall crowd. Their fans are usually pretty well informed and understand the sport quite well. It was great to see Campustown so crowded with fans from the other Big Ten schools.
The crowd on Saturday morning was a little smaller than I expected. One reason for the lower attendance might be the Illinois Kids Wrestling tournament in Rockford this weekend. Many of the state’s younger fans and their parents are competing for a championship of their own.
Hopefully the attendance will improve today.
Illinois had a good quarterfinal round, getting three into the semifinals.
Two Illini won semifinal matches Saturday night and will compete for titles today. Jesse Delgado brought the Illini crowd to their feet with his win against Penn State’s defending NCAA runner-up, Nico Megaludis. He will face Iowa’s Matt McDonough in the final. McDonough has a career record of 118-6. Fortunately for Delgado, two of those losses were to the Illini 125-pounder, who has to like his chances. The other finalist is Conrad Polz at 165. He will face Penn State’s David Taylor in the final. Taylor defeated Polz earlier this year in a dual meet.
At the end of this evening’s session, Penn State holds a comfortable lead in the team race. Minnesota is in second and Iowa third. Illinois is in fifth place.
As always, it is a pleasure to give you just a little recap of wrestling’s “March Madness.” I’m sure today’s action will not disappoint.
If you are not able to make it over to the Assembly Hall, BTN will air today’s finals at 1:30 p.m. with Champaign’s own Tim Johnson hosting the coverage.