Illini wrestling wins three dual-meets in California

By Ethan Swanson

During a weekend at Illinois characterized by snowfall and shivers, the Illinois wrestling team escaped the cold and traveled to California, where the competition and the weather were a bit more heated.

The Illini began their West Coast road trip Friday in Gilroy, California, where they participated in a tri-meet including Appalachian State and Cal State-Bakersfield. Illinois started the evening off with a 24-15 victory against Appalachian State, winning six of the 10 overall matches. With two-time national champion Jesse Delgado out with an undisclosed injury, the Illini relied on a solid team performance to achieve success on the mats. After dropping two of the first three matches, the Illini rallied to win five straight matches ignited by Isaiah Martinez’s 19-6 rout of ASU’s Zach Strickland and capped off by Jeff Koepke’s 9-3 decision over Tyler Radford.

The depleted Illinois squad pulled out another hard-fought victory over Cal State-Bakersfield, claiming the matchup, 23-12. The Illini found themselves down 12-0 after the first three matches until Kyle Langenderfer gave Illinois some much needed momentum with his victory over Bakersfield’s Coleman Hammond. After the win, Illinois never looked back, winning the remaining six matches highlighted by Zac Brunson’s upset of sixth-ranked Bryce Hammond.

“That was our weekend’s marquee win,” Illini head coach Jim Heffernan said. “Brunson wrestled really well this whole weekend.”  

The Illini’s winning ways traveled with them to Lemoore, California, on Saturday as Illinois rolled over the Grand Canyon University Antelopes 42-6. In the meet, Illinois dropped only one match by forfeit in Delgado’s absence at 125 pounds, registering four total falls and two major decisions.

The last California destination for the Illini was the Roadrunner Open in Fresno, California. By the end of Sunday, Illinois had tallied eight top-five finishes. Three members of the Orange and Blue won gold as Isiah Martinez, Jackson Morse and Brunson all took the title in their respective weight classes. Kyle Langenderfer, Nikko Reyes and Brooks Black all made the finals of their respective weight class, yet each suffered close defeats. Koepke and Christopher Lopez rounded the Illini’s place-winners, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

“We just need to work on getting healthy this week.” Heffernan said. “Wrestling three days in a row is pretty tough, some guys wrestled seven times on Sunday alone. I think we handled it well mentally.”  

Steven Rodrigues, the team’s usual starter at 141 pounds, did not wrestle this weekend due to a minor injury suffered in practice. Returning starter at 133 pounds Zane Richards will not wrestle until the spring semester. When asked about the team’s lack of experience in the lower weight classes, Heffernan said he doesn’t see it as a long-term problem.

“I’m not concerned,” Heffernan said. “It’s early, but we’re wrestling well. We just need to get some guys back and we’ll be fine going forward.”

The Illini return home Nov. 29 in a dual meet against Lehigh at Huff Hall.

Ethan Swanson can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @EthanSwanson88.