Conrad Polz, Jimmy Kennedy, Jordan Blanton and B.J. Futrell look to lead the Illini to a successful 2010-11 campaign.
Nov. 4, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Following a bumpy 2009-10 season, the Fighting Illini look toward the 2010-11 campaign with renewed optimism in the second year under head coach Jim Heffernan. Although senior John Dergo and sophomore Jordan Blanton each earned their first career All-American honors, injuries and a myriad of other circumstances wreaked havoc on the Illini lineup and led to a disappointing eighth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and 23rd place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Fifth-year senior Jimmy Kennedy returns to the lineup rejuvenated from a redshirt season last year and will compete for an NCAA title at 141 pounds, up from the 133-pound weight class where he wrestled his first three years. Blanton looks to be a major player on the national scene at 174, while sophomores B.J. Futrell and Conrad Polz will be strong points at 133 and 165, respectively. Futrell returns from a shoulder injury and bumps up to 133 after qualifying for the 2009 NCAA Championships at 125, while Polz will try to capitalize on a big freestyle season last summer that saw him make the United States Junior World Team.
The schedule in 2010-11 looks a bit different, with Midlands and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational the only tournaments that the Illini will participate in besides the postseason events. But Heffernan has continued the extremely competitive dual series with Missouri, which will be held at the Jon Davis Wrestling Complex in Edwardsville, Ill., home of Illini sophomore Daryl Thomas. The Illini also will host West Virginia in a return dual for Illinois' trip to Morgantown in 2009, SIU Edwardsville for the second-straight year and will travel to Lock Haven for a dual the night after the Illini square off with Penn State.
Redshirt-freshman and three-time Ohio state high school champion Sam White is the front-runner for the starting job at 125, but he will be pushed by senior John Deneen, who started in Futrell's absence last year, sophomore Daryl Thomas and freshman Logan Arlis. White won the Dan Gable Open and took fifth in the open division at the Missouri Open during his redshirt season last year. Deneen took seventh at the Big Ten Championships and finished 11-13 with a 7-7 dual record a year ago. Thomas started at 133 last year for the Illini, compiling a 13-18 record. Arlis is a two-time Illinois state medalist and three-time state qualifier, and is the younger brother of former Illini 157-pounder Clint Arlis.
Futrell, a 2009 NCAA qualifier at 125, moves up to 133 pounds for the 2010-11 season after a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely a year ago. At the time of his injury, Futrell was 6-1 with four falls, which gives him 10 falls in only 46 career matches. Backing him up will be Deneen, Thomas and sophomore Tyler LePretre. LePretre was 0-4 last year as a redshirt-freshman.
Two-time All-American Jimmy Kennedy will take aim at an NCAA title in 2010-11 as he enters the year ranked No. 1 by WIN Magazine. The senior redshirted last year and fared well in limited action, going 6-3 at Midlands and the Sunkist Open freestyle tournament. Kennedy finished second at Midlands at 141, losing only to Maryland's Alex Krom. Kennedy will be backed up by LePretre and true-freshmen Jamie Clark.
Eric Terrazas will start at 149 for the third-straight year for Illinois, after finishing 12-9 a year ago. Terrazas started the season 11-0 despite missing the entire month of December with a broken foot he suffered while working out over Thanksgiving break. He won his first two matches after returning from the injury but went 1-9 the rest of the way, losing seven of those 10 bouts by two points or less. He also was in one of the toughest weight classes in the Big Ten, as he faced seven ranked opponents despite never squaring off with No. 1 Brent Metcalf. Terrazas will be backed up by junior Vince Vercelli, senior Matt Lee and freshmen Jed Lightfoot and Guy Kirby.
In what is likely Illinois' most wide-open weight class, two juniors, a sophomore and three true-freshmen will compete for the spot. Sophomore Kyle Dooley and true-freshman Jackson Morse are the leading contenders for the spot, while juniors Jake Beechy and Jake Kimberlin, and true-freshmen Jake Gingerich and Joey Uccardi also will vie for time. Dooley was 8-8 last year, serving as Illinois' starter at 157 against Davidson at the Sprawl & Brawl duals as well as at the Las Vegas Invitational. He also wrestled at 165 against Findlay and went 1-2 at Midlands at 157, with both losses coming to ranked wrestlers. Morse is very highly touted coming out of high school, as he was the No. 1 national recruit at 152 pounds according to Intermat at one point and was a three-time Michigan state champion. He also won a pair of Super 32 Challenge titles, one of the top national high school tournaments.
Sophomore Conrad Polz will start at 165 pounds for the Illini after an impressive summer freestyle campaign in 2010. Polz won the FILA Junior World Team Trials in May, earning a spot on the United States Junior World Championships team. He lost his lone match in Hungary, but the experience should be invaluable as he continues his collegiate career. Polz also finished seventh at the 2010 Big Ten Championships and posted a 17-15 season record. He will be backed up by senior Joe Barczak and true-freshman Adam Acheson.
All-American Jordan Blanton returns as Illinois' starter at 174 after finishing 2010 with a bang. He out-performed his No. 5 seed at the 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. Blanton defeated five ranked opponents last year on his way to a 25-9 season mark. He'll be backed up by senior Ben Friedl, sophomore Dan Stelter and freshman Nico Jimenez.
Redshirt-freshman Tony Dallago likely will man the 184-pound weight class for the Illini, but he'll be pushed by senior Clinton Polz, sophomores Stelter and Matt McCarter, and true-freshman Brendan Mahaney. Dallago went 5-3 during his redshirt season, finishing third at the Eastern Michigan Open with a 5-1 mark. He also was a 2009 Pennsylvania state champion and four-time PIAA state medalist with a 171-28 career high school record.
Redshirt-freshman Mario Gonzalez will start at 197 for Illinois after going 5-3 during his redshirt season. He struggled early in the year and suffered a knee injury, but he bounced back later in the season with a third-place finish at the National Collegiate Open after winning four of his five matches at the event. McCarter also will back up Gonzalez at 197.
Sophomore Pat Walker and junior Martin Smith once again will battle for the starting job at heavyweight, a year after they shared the role throughout the season. Walker was 10-14, including a 2-6 dual record, while Smith went 11-15 with a 4-7 dual mark. Smith started in five Big Ten duals compared to Walker's three Big Ten starts.