EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Fighting Illini wrestling team won the 2012 Midlands Championships after totaling 99.5 points and placing five wrestlers during the two day tournament. This is the first time Illinois has won the Midlands championships since the 2005-06 season. Five wrestlers placed in the top seven, including Jesse Delgado (125) and B.J. Futrell (141) finishing second, Jordan Blanton (174) third, and Conrad Polz (165) and Mario Gonzalez (197) placing fifth.
"It's always nice to win," head coach Jim Heffernan said. "More importantly, these guys had to fight to win every match we could. It was great experience for everyone. Jordan, Conrad and Mario faced adversity and the pressure to win. The fact that all of them won is a good thing."
Delgado started the day against Central Michigan's Christian Cullinan and pinned him in 3:28 to advance to the finals. During his first Midlands championship bout, Delgado wrestled against No. 2 Jarrod Garnett of Virginia Tech. In the first, Delgado had multiple shots into Garnett's leg but were eventually called as stalemates, making the score 0-0 heading into the second. Delgado chose down and escaped to making the score 1-0 after the second period. Garnett started down in the third and escaped to tie the score 1-1. Delgado had the Hokie in a cradle but Garnett scrambled out into a stalemate to push the bout into overtime. The Illini grappler had Garnett in a single leg on the edge of the mat, but was put onto his back and fell 5-1 to place second.
Futrell moved into the finals of the Midlands by moving past No. 2 Devin Carter (Unt. Virginia Tech) by an 8-5 decision earlier this afternoon. In the finals, the senior took on the defending tournament champion and No. 1 seed Kendric Maple of Oklahoma. Futrell warded off a single leg before Maple got in on a double leg shot. Both were pushed off the mat for a scoreless first period. Maple chose down in the second and immediately scored a reversal on Futrell for the only points of the period. In the third, Maple scored a takedown to push the score to 4-0 and collected the riding time point. Futrell escaped, but time ran out as Maple defeated the Illini wrestler 5-1.
The top-seeded Blanton finished third for the second consecutive year. The 174-pounder dropped his only match of the tournament in the championship quarterfinals against Lehigh's Nate Brown. The Richmond, Ill., native fought back to take third place by moving past John-Martin Cannon (Buffalo) by a 5-3 SV1 decision.
The fifth-place finishes for both Polz and Gonzalez are career-bests for the duo. Polz came into the championships as the fifth seed as Gonzalez grabbed the fourth seed. The 165-pounder Polz defeated No. 8 Mark Lewandowski of Buffalo, 3-1 in the final match while Gonzalez moved past Kevin Beazley (Unt. - Old Dominion), 7-3 to take fifth place.
"It's good to have that kind of depth to win championships," Heffernan said. "The guys who placed, really did some good things. It was a total team effort."
The Illini will begin the 2013 year when they compete against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga on Sunday, Jan. 6.