Illini wrestling ends skid against Michigan State in East Lansing

By Alex Wallner

Coming off a loss in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday night, the No. 13-ranked Illinois wrestling team turned around to face Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan on Sunday to conclude its three match road trip.

The match marked the return of fifth-ranked Zac Brunson as well, who has been sidelined the past past three weeks due to injury.

During that time off, Brunson said that he remained focused on improving and getting back to where he was prior to the injury.

“It was just an opportunity for me to heal and prepare technically and cardiovascularly without having to worry about the grind of the season,” Brunson said. “In a lot of ways, it was a blessing in disguise.”

Brunson added that he learned a lot about his team during his three weeks off, as he actually got to watch competitions as a spectator, which he said was harder to do when on the mat and focusing on an opponent.

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Brunson’s return was nothing short of dominating, as he cruised past Shane Shadaia, 18-0, to give the Illini a 5-0 advantage after the first bout.

The Illini added five more points to the lead after Jeff Koepke defeated Wesley Maskill at 184-pounds by technical fall, 26-11.

Michigan State would bounce back at 197-pounds, with Jacob Cooper’s decision victory over the Illini’s Andre Lee, making the score 10-3 in favor of Illinois.

Illinois then made the score 14-3 after No. 19 Brooks Black defeated Deimitrus Renfroe in a heavyweight bout by major decision, 10-2.

After Michigan State earned another win at 125-pounds, Illinois sent second-ranked Zane Richards to the mat in a 133-pound bout.

Richards defeated the Spartans’ Garth Yenter by fall to increase Illinois’ cushion to 20-6.

“The one negative comment is that guys are just trying to slow me down in my matches,” Richards said. “I think that they’re not going out offensively and they just want to keep the scores close. Both guys this weekend tried the same thing and I did a good job in the second match getting to my attacks, scoring points and making guys wrestle at a higher pace.”

Michigan State would add another bout win at 141-pounds to make the score 20-10 Illinois, but would be the last win the Spartans would put on the board.

Illinois rallied in the closing matches to win the dual by a decisive 32-10 margin and improve its record to 10-3 on the season and 1-3 in conference competitions with No. 1-ranked Penn State looming.

At 157-pounds, top-ranked Isaiah Martinez added another technical fall to his resume by defeating the Spartans’ Joe Johnson, 20-5. The fall was Martinez’s 14th of the season, and he improved his individual record to 19-0 and 54-0 as an Illini.

For an Illini team that lost its previous three conference duals, a win over Michigan State added much needed confidence, which Martinez said his team needs to cherish moving forward in the season.

“The one thing that I need my teammates to understand is how important confidence is when you step out and compete,” Martinez said. “Some guys are just going to have to learn the lesson the hard way.”

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