Illini wrestling sweeps competition at Eastern Michigan Duals

By Alex Wallner

The No. 11 ranked Illinois wrestling team opened its season on Saturday in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for the Eastern Michigan Duals.

The Illini faced three teams over the afternoon: Olivet College, Utah Valley and Clarion University, and won all three matches – 42-3, 32-6 and 34-6, respectively.

Illinois was headed by defending Big Ten and NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez, who won all three of his matches by technical fall. Martinez led the NCAA with 11 technical falls during the 2014-2015 campaign.

The No. 1-ranked, 157-pound Martinez defeated Ross Pennock of Olivet College 22-4, Raider Lofthouse of Utah Valley 20-8 and Morgan Way of Clarion, 22-7. The redshirt sophomore from Lemoore, California, has a 38-0 record over the past two seasons.

Like Martinez, the Illini sent four other ranked wrestlers to the mat on Saturday.

Zac Brunson is No. 6 in the 174-pound weight class and won all three matches – two by fall and one by technical fall.

Brunson, though, doesn’t care about the number next to his name. Instead, he’s looking forward toward winning matches and gaining momentum throughout the season.

“I don’t wrestle for the rankings,” Brunson said. “I wrestle to win matches and to reach my goal of being a National Champion.”

Currently, Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State, Brian Realbuto of Cornell, Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech, Kurtis Julson of North Dakota State, and Blaise Butler of Missouri are ahead of Brunson respectively in the 174-pound rankings, provided by Mike Finn of win-magazine.com.

Illinois sits at 3-0 after Saturday, with a week to prepare for its next challenge on Nov. 15 against Arizona State and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at Huff Hall.

It will be the Illini’s first home competition of the season as well.

For Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan, Saturday was a good experience for a very young team to get away from training, get into competition, and build on the season.

“I think we can build on a ton of things and that’s the best part of getting out of practice,” Heffernan said. “You learn a lot about your team.”

With only eight juniors and seniors on the roster, Illinois brings the youth factor to the table with its eight freshmen.

Illinois sent one freshman to the Eastern Michigan Duals on Saturday: 5-foot-8, 125-pound Francis Edelen.

Edelen made his debut against Michael Schmidt of Olivet, but fell by a 9-5 decision, the Comets’ lone win in the match.

Edelen then took on No. 13 ranked Chasen Tolbert of Utah Valley and fell again by decision, 5-1. For his final match of the day – against Clarion – Edelen lost by decision for a third time, but only by one point, 7-6.

What No. 6-ranked and 133-pound Zane Richards took away from Saturday was that he believes his team can compete alongside the top-teams in the country.

“I take away the fact that our team is ready to compete with any team in the nation and I’m ready to dominate anybody who steps on the mat with me,” Richards said. “We just need to compete with a lot of passion and intensity for seven plus minutes and leave everything we got each time we wrestle.”

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