Illini wrestling finish strong to earn second conference win of the season

By Alex Wallner

Tweet: “Nebraska has beaten us the last three years and we owe them one.” – Steven Rodrigeus

Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, the Illinois wrestling team has faced Nebraska three times — the Huskers won all three duals.

Nebraska (9-4, 3-4 Big Ten) took last season’s dual against the Illini (11-4, 2-4 Big Ten) by a score of 22-9 in Champaign.

Then-No. 4 at 157 pounds, Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez earned one of the Illini’s three wins at the dual.

Martinez defeated No. 3 James Green, 2-0, to pull off an upset and said that facing Nebraska will be different without Green in the lineup.

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“This match was a lot different last year with the graduation of James,” Martinez said. “Now they have a freshman at my weight and he was a blue-chip recruit coming in, he’s a tough competitor and I’ll be ready. I don’t look over anyone and when it’s time to go, I’ll be ready to go.”

Nebraska comes into Friday’s dual with a ranked wrestler at every weight class. The Huskers boast three ranked in the top 10 and one in the top five — Jake Sueflohn at 149 pounds.

Martinez said that Nebraska is similar to Illinois.

“As a dual team, they’ve beaten us the last two times and they’ve kind of surprised us the last two times a little bit,” Martinez said. “I think some of our guys weren’t ready, but we’re making a real hard emphasis on being ready and right off the whistle and taking it to them, whereas they’ve took it to us the last two times. 

“We’re trying to pay them back a little bit.”

Nebraska has lost each of its last three matches: to Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa, respectively.

Coming off of the first win of his Big Ten career, Illini redshirt freshman Andre Lee is set to face another tough opponent at 197 pounds on Friday.

Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker is ranked 14th at 197 pounds with a record of 14-6 and 4-2 in the conference. Studebaker is 2-2 in his last four matches, losing to Penn State’s Morgan McIntosh and Iowa’s Nathan Burak, respectively.

At 165 pounds, Illinois’ Steven Rodrigues will face his fourth ranked opponent during the Big Ten season, No. 14 Austin Wilson.

Ranked sixth in his weight class, Rodrigues is coming off of a loss to No. 3 Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin on Sunday, his second loss of the season.

Rodrigues said that nothing really changes for the Illini from a team standpoint vs. the Huskers.

“Nothing really changes in terms of preparation,” Rodrigues said. “It’s just about guys buying in and believing in themselves more than anything. Nebraska has beaten us the last three years and we owe them one.”

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