Here’s what you need to know from Sunday’s action at the Big Ten meet, courtesy staff writer Bob Asmussen:
Sunday’s finals and place matches drew 4,472 fans. Like with Saturday’s turnout, a large part of the crowd represented Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Illinois. The crowds sit by sections. Overall attendance for the weekend neared 12,000.
One first, a second, a third. And six qualifiers for the NCAA meet with a great chance for a seventh. Not a bad weekend for Jim Heffernan’s Illinois wrestlers. Wrestlers on their way to the NCAA meet in Des Moines, Iowa, are Jesse Delgado (125), Daryl Thomas (133), Conrad Polz (165), Jordan Blanton (174), Tony Dallago (184) and Mario Gonzalez (197). Caleb Ervin, who finished eighth at 149, will need one of the wildcard berths, which are awarded by the NCAA. “Strength of the weight, the season he had, we’re hopeful,” Heffernan said. The word will come later this week. The Illini finished fifth in the team race. “I’m proud of all of them,” Heffernan said. “It was a really good effort. I think we gave a couple matches away. But for the most part, I think we wrestled good.”
They are ... really good
Ed Ruth remained undefeated. And Penn State made a strong case for its ability to defend its national title in two weeks. Leading going into the day, the Nittany Lions held on for the team title. Penn State finished with 151 points, ahead of second-place Minnesota (139). Iowa finished third with 133.5 and Ohio State was fourth with 109.5. Ruth continued his roll at 184 pounds, stopping Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus 5-3 in the finals. Ruth won his earlier matches by technical fall and major decision. He wasn’t the only champion for wrestling legend Cael Sanderson. David Taylor (165), Matt Brown (174) and Quentin Wright (197) also took home Big Ten titles. Ruth was named the Big Ten’s Wrestler of the Year and Sanderson shared the coaching award with Minnesota’s J Robinson.
They’ll be back
But not for a while. At least 12 years. More likely 14. The Big Ten rotates the Big Ten meet among the competing schools. Wisconsin hosts next year’s meet. Soon, Rutgers and Maryland, which join the league in 2014-15, will be a part of the rotation. Heffernan was thrilled with the way Illinois handled the event. He had special praise for Zach Acton, the Illinois event coordinator who managed the meet. “He did a fantastic job,” Heffernan said. “He kept me out of almost everything in terms of organization. He knows this is an important thing for us and he let us do our job. The whole staff was great. This is a great building for wrestling.” Would Heffernan and Illinois be up for a bigger meet someday, like the NCAA version? Heffernan said the NCAA won’t allow the meet to be held on college campuses. And even if it did, the Assembly Hall floor isn’t big enough for the eight necessary mats.
When you host the Big Ten championships, you get a say in who will present the awards to the winners. Illinois loaded up its roster with former Illini standouts, starting with Kyle Ott, who gave out the medals at 125, followed by ex-Illini Mark James, the presenter at 133, and current Illini B.J. Futrell at 141. Futrell missed the second half of the season because of a neck injury. Wrestling takes its awards presentations very seriously. Time is taken after each weight class to announce the winners of the previous weight. The wrestlers are presented medals and the winner receives the filled-in bracket for his weight class. Other presenters Sunday included Steve Marianetti, Mike Poeta, Eric Siebert and John Dergo. For the 197 pounders, former Illini coach Mark Johnson handed out the medals.