Expectations High for Illini in 2012-13

B.J. Futrell is one of the returning four All-Americans on the 2012-13 Illini wrestling squad.
B.J. Futrell is one of the returning four All-Americans on the 2012-13 Illini wrestling squad.

Oct. 26, 2012

Coming off a strong season last year, the Fighting Illini seek to make another powerful run in the Big Ten as they head into their fourth year under head coach Jim Heffernan. Wrapping up the season last year with four All-Americans, a fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Illini hope to maintain their momentum and continue to improve from last year. They Illini will officially open the 2012-13 season on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Loras Open in Dubuque, Iowa. Illinois will also welcome all 12 conference teams to Champaign in March as Assembly Hall hosts the Big Ten Championships for the first time since 2001.

The Illini will be led by their four returning All-Americans Jesse Delgado (125), B.J. Futrell (141), Conrad Polz (165) and Jordan Blanton (174) along with reigning Big Ten Champion, Mario Gonzalez (197). In addition, junior national qualifier Tony Dallago reached the round of 12 at the NCAA Championships last year at 184 pounds.

Coming off of a successful 2011-12 season, Jesse Delgado will take on the starting spot for the 125 weight class. Delgado has hopes of another prosperous season after finishing third at the Big Ten Championships last year and placing seventh at the NCAA Championships in his first year as an Illini. Over the course of last year's season, Delgado led the team in tech falls with eight, was the only wrestler to come out victorious against No. 1 Matt McDonough of Iowa, and finished up the year with an overall record of 34-7.

With B.J. Futrell moving up a weight class, Daryl Thomas and Steven Rodrigues will face off for the starting spot in the 133 class. Thomas, who is switching down a weight class after last season, is heading into the upcoming season with an optimistic attitude after posting a career-high wins with a record of 15-15 and placing sixth at the Big Ten Championships. On the flip side, Rodrigues is coming into the season as a redshirt freshman with a resume that includes a New York DI State Championship as well as a fifth place finish at the Junior Nationals. Also competing at this weight will be former starter Logan Arlis.

B.J. Futrell is heading into the 2012-13 season as the starter for the 141 weight class with a energetic outlook and strong momentum after finishing sixth at the NCAA Championships last year and earning his second All-America honor. Through the duration of last year, Futrell earned a 30-9 overall record and lead the Illini in pins with 13 which is tied for the fourth highest in school history. Furthermore, Futrell had the honor of competing at the NWCA All-Star Classic, which exclusively hosted only 20 wrestlers in the nation. Futrell will serve as the Illinois team captain.

Redshirt-freshman Caleb Ervin will start at 149 pounds for the Illini after compiling an 11-5 record in open tournaments last year. The former Morganfield, Ky. standout won the Loras Open (5-0) and placed second at the UNI Open.

In what is likely Illinois' most wide-open weight class, coaches look for senior Kyle Dooley, redshirt-freshman Matt Nora and redshirt-sophomore Jake Gingerich to compete for the starting position. Dooley compiled a 4-5 record last year and started in the Lock Haven dual. The Monticello, Ill., native also went 3-1 at the Loras Open and placed second. Jackson Morse, last year's starter at the weight will redshirt this season.

After earning his first All-America honor, Conrad Polz returns as the starter for the 165 weight class after suffering a torn MCL that forced him to sit out for a portion of the 2011-12 season. However, before his injury Polz went 15-1 during the regular season and placed a career-high fourth at the Big Ten Championships

Senior Jordan Blanton remains the starter for the fourth-year at 174 pounds after finishing fourth at the NCAA Championships with victories over two top-five ranked opponents and an overall record of 30-9 last season. Blanton has had two top-five finishes in the NCAA Championships in the last 3 seasons and was chosen to accompany teammate Futrell to the NWCA All-Star Classic for the second consecutive year.

After recording an overall record of 25-13 with nine pins in the 2011-12 season, Tony Dallago will remain the starter for the Illini in the 184 weight class. One of his major feats occurred last season when Dallago successfully pinned No. 13 Braden Atwood (Purdue) in a mere 23 seconds at the Big Ten Championships, the fastest of any Illini last season. Furthermore, Dallago placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships and continued on to qualify for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year, finishing with a 3-2 record and reaching the round of 12. Tony's two losses at the NCAA meet were to the No. 1 and 2 seed.

After Mario Gonzalez won Illinois' first Big Ten title at 197 pounds since 2001, he will retain his spot as the starter at the weight. Gonzalez also finished the season 26-9 and reached a career-high No. 11 in the Intermat rankings and finished 3-2 in his first NCAAs, reaching the round of 12.

Senior Pat Walker and Christopher Lopez will face off for the rights to the starting spot at heavyweight. Last season, Walker started and recorded a 12-19 overall record and set a career-high pins with four. Season was highlighted by defeating the then No. 10 Mike McClure of Michigan State in sudden victory. Lopez posted a 5-3 record and placed second at the Loras Open. He also placed second at the 2010 Junior Nationals during his high school career.