Martinez dominates 2015 for Illini Wrestling

By Ethan Swanson

For Illinois wrestling, 2014-15 marked the beginning of one stellar career and the end of another.

The Illini (13-5, 6-3 Big Ten) experienced its fair share of success this season, registering three more wins than the team did in 2013-14 and capturing sixth and 12th place finishes at the Big Ten Championships and NCAA tournament, respectively.ss However, this season was defined by the individual accomplishments of two Illini grapplers in particular: senior Jesse Delgado and freshman Isaiah Martinez.

Delgado entered the season as a three-time All-American and the two-time defending national champion at 125 pounds. ssThe senior was hoping to become the first Illinois wrestler in school history to three-peat at the NCAA tournament.

Unfortunately, in Illinois’ home opener, Delgado tore the labrum in his left shoulder: An injury that sidelined the No. 1 wrestler in the country for over half the season.ss

“I was never really sure if I would return at that point,” Delgado said. “But I was going to try no matter what. (Assistant coach Mark Perry) just kept telling me the injury didn’t matter, to trick my mind into it.”

Delgado finally did return Jan. 30 in a home dual with Maryland, winning his first three matches back from injury until suffering his first loss of the season to Missouri’s No. 2 Alan Waters. Delgado would go on to take fourth at the Big Ten championships, qualify for the NCAA tournament and keep the three-peat hopes alive.

In the third round of the national tournament, the senior found out fate was not on his side.

In his match against Virginia’s Nick Hermann, Delgado’s career and title hopes ended with yet another devastating injury: This time a torn hamstring.

“It was the lowest I had ever seen him,” Perry said. “I just told him that if this is as worse as it can get, then he’s got a lot to look forward to in life.”

Delgado’s 101 career wins are the 22nd-most in school history and his career win percentage of .863 (101-16) ranks fifth all-time. ss

For freshman Isaiah Martinez, however, it only took one year to rewrite the Illini record books.

Martinez became only the second Illinois wrestler in program history to finish an undefeated season, finishing 35-0. The freshman breezed through the Big Ten Championships, taking first at 157 pounds and earning the No. 1 overall seed heading into the national tournament.ss

Martinez trailed for less than 45 seconds the entire NCAA tournament, claiming his first national title by defeating Cornell’s Brian Realbuto by a convincing 10-2 margin.ss

“I’ve had the dream of winning a national championship ever since I walked onto campus,” Martinez said. “This sport is just fun; I love the challenge of it. I want to win it all four years.”

Illini senior Jackson Morse finished his season and career with a premiere performance as well, taking fourth at 165 pounds in the NCAA tournament and earning his first ever All-American honor. Morse finished the season with a 34-8 record, tying him for 16th-most wins in a single season. His career record of 106-47 (.693) ties him with Jon Llewellyn for 16th-most wins in school history.ss

Seven of the 10 starters are either sophomores or freshmen and the future looks bright for the Illini despite losing two key contributors. Behind Martinez’s dominance and a solid young core, both the team and the coaches believe the next few years could be something special.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys here who are starting to learn what they need to do to have success,” Perry said. “We believe we can build something here we haven’t seen before.

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Year in Review: @IllinoisWrestling says goodbye to seniors Delgado and Morse, but welcomes future with open arms | LINK