Illini Wrestling Prepare to Open Season

Illini's Jordan Blanton returns this season looking for his second All-America honor.
Illini's Jordan Blanton returns this season looking for his second All-America honor.

Nov. 2, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini look toward the 2011-12 campaign with renewed optimism in the third year under head coach Jim Heffernan. Although injuries to key starters plagued Illinois last season, the Illini posted a sixth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and a 22nd-place finish at the NCAA Championships, led by All-American B.J. Futrell. The Illini will open the season this Saturday at the Loras Open in Dubuque, Iowa.

Junior Jordan Blanton returns to the lineup after being granted a medical hardship waiver for last season. He is looking to compete for a national title at 174 after capturing his first All-America honor in 2010. Futrell will be a major player on the national scene at 133, while senior Eric Terrazas and redshirt-junior Conrad Polz will be strong points at 149 and 165, respectively. Terrazas returns for his final season after qualifying for his first NCAA Championships by placing fifth at the 2011 Big Ten Championships, while Polz compiled a 14-11 overall record and a 6-2 mark in Big Ten duals last season, placing sixth at the conference championships.

The schedule in 2011-12 looks a bit different, with the Loras Open, Wrestle for a Cure Duals and Midlands being the only tournaments that the Illini will participate in other than the postseason events. But Heffernan has arranged dual with eight teams that finished in the top-25 at the 2011 NCAA Championships. The Illini begin their action packed season on the road for the first month of competition, squaring off with Kent State, which finished 17th at the end of the 2011 season, Utah Valley, Lehigh, a program that finished eighth a year ago and Clarion. Illinois will travel to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes, who finished third at the 2011 NCAA Championships last year, before returning to Huff Hall for their home-opener with UT- Chattanooga on Dec. 18. The Illini will also host Big Ten foes Minnesota, after the Gophers finished seventh at last years national championships, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

With Logan Arlis jumping up two weight classes, Dominic Oliveri and redshirt-freshman Jesse Delgado will compete for the starting spot at 125. Olivieri was a three-time Illinois state qualifier, placing fifth at the 2011 IHSA state finals Class 3A at 119 pounds. Delgado, who transferred from Cal Poly, had a great summer by winning the 2011 FILA Junior Nationals Freestyle Championships. He was also the 2009 National High School Coaches Association National Champion at 112.

All-American B.J. Futrell, returns as Illinois' starter at 133 after finishing 2011 in a big way. He went 28-10 with six falls, including a 6-2 Big Ten dual record. The junior finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Futrell went 3-3 at the national tournament to earn his first career All-America honor by placing eighth at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Junior Tyler LePretre will back him up.

In what is likely Illinois' most wide-open weight class, coaches look for sophomore Logan Arlis and redshirt-freshman Tucker Armstrong, junior Daryl Thomas to compete for the starting position. Arlis served as the full-time starter at 125 last year, placing third on the team with five pins on the season. Thomas went 3-2 last year, scoring victories against Wisconsin, SIU-Edwardsville and Michigan State. Armstrong, a transfer from Cal Poly was a Super 32 champion in 2009, placed third at the 2009 NHSCA Senior Nationals and was a two-time Fargo All-American.

Eric Terrazas will start at 149 for the fourth-straight year for Illinois after finishing 26-11 a year ago. This summer Terrazas placed second at University Nationals and competed at the 2011 World Team Trials. He also placed third at Midlands, winning eight straight matches, including a victory over a top 10-opponent. The senior went 5-3 in Big Ten duals and qualified automatically for his first career NCAA Championships by placing fifth at the Big Ten Championships. Redshirt-freshman Caleb Ervin also will be in the mix after having a great summer. Red-shirt freshman Guy Kirby and true-freshmen Matt Nora, Andrew Nyland and Matt Reuttiger also will be at 149.

Sophomore Jackson Morse and junior Kyle Dooley are the leading contenders for the starting spot at 157. Morse qualified for the 2011 NCAA Championships as an at-large selection after finishing seventh at the Big Ten Championships and compiling a 22-14 overall record. Dooley compiled a 7-6 record and placed third at the Lindenwood Open.

Sophomore Conrad Polz will start at 165 pounds for the Illini after compiling a 14-11 record last season. Polz placed sixth at the Big Ten Championships, missing an automatic qualifer spot for the NCAA Championships by one place. The junior went 6-2 in Big Ten duals. He will be backed up by redshirt-freshman Adam Acheson and true-freshman Brandon Lopez.

Junior Jordan Blanton returns as Illinois' starter at 174 after going 6-3 in an injury-shortened 2010-11 season. The All-American out-performed his No. 5 seed at the 2010 Big Ten Championships, finishing third, and out-performed his No. 10 seed at the NCAA Championships with a fifth-place finish that earned his first career All-America honor. He'll be backed up by junior Dan Stelter and redshirt-freshman Nico Jimenez.

Redshirt-sophomore Tony Dallago will man the 184-pound weight class for the Illini, but he'll be pushed by juniors Stelter, Evan Ellsworth and Matt McCarter, redshirt-freshman Brendan Mahaney and true-freshman Jeff Keopke. Dallago went 17-17 last year, going 4-4 in Big Ten duals and leading the team with nine pins, which equaled the ninth-most pins in a season in school history. Dallago beat Quentin Wright of Penn State, the 184-pound Big Ten and NCAA Champion in a dual and qualified automatically for the 2011 NCAA Championships by placing sixth at the Big Ten Championships.

Coaches have high expectations for sophomore Mario Gonzalez as he enters the season as Illinois' starter at 197 after putting together a 10-3 record in an injury-shortened 2010-11 season. Gonzalez won the Lindenwood Open and took seventh place at the Las Vegas Invitational a season ago and entered the dual season as the Illini's starter at 197 before sustaining a knee injury. Senior Martin Smith and true-freshman Joe LaManna will give the Illini depth at 197.

Junior Pat Walker and freshman Chris Lopez will compete for the starting job at heavyweight. Walker was 10-14 overall and placed second at the Lindenwood Open while Lopez placed second at the 2010 Junior Nationals, was a two-time Illinois All-State wrestler and compiled a 55-2 career high school record.