By The News-Gazette
DES MOINES, Iowa — The Illinois coaching staff certainly did its part in preparing Jesse Delgado for a run to an NCAA championship.
But Mom gets a ton of credit, too.
“I was having a rough season the first half, and I was on the phone with my mom and she just gave me a talk,” Delgado said. “After that, I feel like my season turned around.”
The sophomore from Gilroy, Calif., on Saturday became the UI’s first NCAA champ since 2003 when he decisioned Penn State’s Nico Megaludis 7-4. Tied 1-1 in the third period, Delgado took control with a takedown and near-fall.
“I knew it was my shot to win the match,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get another shot.”
Delgado became the first Illinois national champion at 125 — and the first for coach Jim Heffernan since he took control of the program in 2009.
Delgado placed seventh at last year’s national championships to earn All-America accolades. He earned his second straight All-America nod Friday but added to his legacy with Saturday night’s triumph that was carried live by ESPN.
Delgado, who was named Outstanding Wrestler at the Big Ten tournament earlier this month in Champaign, credited his coaches.
Associate head coach Mark Perry, he said, “really planted the idea that I could be a national champion into my mind.”
Of assistant coach Jeremy Hunter, a frequent sparring partner, Delgado said: “Jeremy is the one who took me to the next level. I got to work with him every day. Everything in that match maybe wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, but up to this point, it was all working with Jeremy every day.”
Delgado was 11-2 after a loss at the Midlands in Evanston. But he would finish the season strong, losing only one more time.
That was against Megaludis during a match at Huff Hall.
He got even when it mattered most.
“When you’re in college, it’s just kind of hard when your parents and your friends aren’t there, but it gave me an opportunity to grow,” Delgado said.
He finished 27-3 and was the first Illini to win a Big Ten and NCAA title in the same year since Matt Lackey in 2003.
Two other Illini ended their season with a victory.
Conrad Polz will bring a fifth-place finish at 165 back to Champaign. The senior beat Michael Moreno of Iowa State in a 7-5 decision that saw Polz score a late takedown to secure the win after only leading 5-4 late in the third period.
Jordan Blanton at 174 finished in seventh place, beating Cody Walters from Ohio in a 4-3 victory.
Penn State (123.5 points) won the team title for the third year in a row. Oklahoma State was second with 119.5, and Minnesota was third with 103 points. Illinois finished ninth (45.5).
“This year has been really hard with losing guys from injury,” Heffernan said. “Leaving here with a national champion and three All-Americans makes it feel a little better. Our goal was to finish in the Top 10, and we did that this year.”