Illini grapplers open up Big Ten Championships on Saturday


Ryan Fang

Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez grapples against Minnesota’s Brandon Kingsley in Huff Hall on Feb. 12 2016.

By Alex Wallner

Brackets were released on Friday for the Big Ten Wrestling Championships and six Illini are seeded in the top seven in their respective weight classes.

The six Illini seeded in the top seven are Zane Richards, Isaiah Martinez, Steven Rodrigues, Zac Brunson, Jeff Koepke and Brooks Black.

Illinois comes into the bracket-style tournament with one tournament win on the season, the Reno Tournament of Champions, which it won in December.

For the Illini, one of the most intriguing storylines that fans are eager to see is at 157 pounds, as No. 2 Isaiah Martinez defends his Big Ten title.

Martinez is 23-1 on the season with the only loss coming to No. 1 Jason Nolf of Penn State, who Martinez could see in the finals of the tournament.

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    Nolf ended Martinez’s 54-match winning streak in January by pinfall. The redshirt freshman is 26-0 on the season for the Nittany Lions, which tied for the regular season Big Ten title with Iowa at 9-0 in the conference.

    Nolf takes on 14-9 Doug Welch of Purdue in the first round, while Martinez squares up against TJ Ruschell of Wisconsin.

    Martinez defeated Ruschell in January by technical fall, 16-1, en route to a 21-13 road victory for the Illini over the Badgers.

    A win over Ruschell in the first round would set up a rematch against Nebraska’s Tyler Berger in the second round. Berger received a bye in the first round.

    Martinez defeated Berger in a February dual against the Huskers by decision, 13-6.

    At 133 pounds, No. 1-seeded Zane Richards earned a bye in the first round of his bracket.

    Richards awaits the winner of Northwestern’s Dom Malone – the nine seed – and Michigan’s Rossi Bruno, the eight seed.

    Richards defeated Bruno by decision 4-1 in their last meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but did not face Malone in the meeting against Northwestern, due to illness.

    Last season at the Big Ten Championships, Richards finished in fifth place after defeating Penn State’s Jimmy Gulibon by a 4-3 decision in the fifth-place match.

    Junior Kyle Langenderfer is trying to capitalize off of a good 2015 Big Ten Championships, where he earned third place honors.

    Langenderfer lost in the first round last season to No. 2 seed Jasion Tsirtsis of Northwestern before winning five straight matches to earn a third-place finish.

    Langenderfer faces No. 1 seed Zain Rutherford on Saturday in the first round. Rutherford enters the tournament with a 25-0 record.

    Rutherford defeated Langenderfer in January by pinning him in two minutes, 10 seconds for No. 1 Penn State.

    Illinois’ Steven Rodrigues enters the tournament with a 21-2 record on the season, but is at 165 points,  a new weight class from last season.

    Last season, Rodrigues competed in the Big Ten Championships at 141 pounds and lost in the second round of the consolation bracket to Nebraska’s Anthony Abidin.

    This season, both blemishes in Rodrigues’ record came to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds respectively.

    No. 1-seeded Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin defeated Rodrigues by a 5-2 decision, while No. 2-seeded Bo Jordan of Ohio State won by decision, 6-3.

    In the first round, Rodrigues faces Brendan Burnham of Maryland, who is 9-9 on the season. Rodrigues defeated Burnham at the Grapple at the Garden in November by decision, 13-8.

    At 174 pounds, the Illini’s Zac Brunson enters as the No. 3 seed in the tournament and takes on Andrew Hoselton of Purdue in the first round.

    Brunson and the Illini did not face the Boilermakers during the regular season.

    Bo Nickal is the top-seed at 174 pounds with a 26-1 record and defeated Brunson by pin in a January bout.

    Brunson’s second loss on the season came to the No. 7 seed, Nick Wanzek, from Minnesota.

    Not only is Brunson looking to top last season’s 3-2 finish at Big Ten’s, but the Illini are looking to top their team finish as well.

    Illinois finished last season’s Big Ten Championships in sixth place as a team with 96 total points. Iowa and Ohio State tied for the title with 120 team points apiece.

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