No. 10 Illini wrestling prepare for a competitive Sunday afternoon

By Alex Wallner

Tweet: [email protected] will host [email protected] and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Sunday at the Illini Duals

By Alex Wallner

Staff writer

The No. 11 Illinois wrestling team will compete in the Illini Duals on Sunday at Huff Hall against Arizona State and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The Illini will face-off against Arizona State at 1:30 p.m. and Southern
Illinois-Edwardsville at 3 p.m. The Sun Devils and Cougars will
square off at noon.

Illinois is coming off a sweep of Olivet College, Utah Valley and Clarion University at the Eastern Michigan Duals on Saturday, Nov. 7.

The Illini finished with three wins in last year’s Illini Duals after defeating Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 44-0, Rider 29-6 and Northern Illinois 37-10.

Head coach Jim Heffernan expects his team to stay consistent and show progress Sunday against a good Sun Devils and improved Cougars team.

“Arizona State’s a really good team and I think Southern — from the time we wrestled them last year — is really improved,” Heffernan said. “They got some different guys in their lineups, so we need to see improvement out of our team and it’s one of those things where we tell these guys all the time, it’s not so much about the other team, but what we do. We’re looking for improvement on what we did last week and keep making progress.”

Arizona State top returning wrestler is Blake Stauffer. The All-American finished the 2014-15 season with a 37-3 record and a 14-1 record in dual matches. Stauffer is the defending PAC-12 champion and was the fourth-place finisher at the NCAA Championships at 184-pounds.

No. 3 Stauffer will face No. 19 Jeff Koepke in the 184-pound division. The Illini redshirt senior won all three matches last Saturday and had three wins over top-15 wrestlers last season.

Koepke said he believes he can beat Stauffer on Sunday, along with every other opponent that steps on the mat with him.

“I plan on winning both of my matches in pretty dominant form,” Koepke said. “I have one big opponent, but I plan on beating him … I believe I can beat anybody at the weight, as long as I can focus on my technique, I’ll be alright.”

Arizona State and Illinois are the two best teams competing on Sunday, as the Illini are ranked tenth and the Sun Devils received four votes, according to the Nov. 10 NCAA rankings.

Heffernan said that Arizona State has a deep lineup and is a very competitive group of guys.

“They’re a good team,” Heffernan said. “They’re really solid, they got 10 good guys and they’re all competitive. You know, it’s November, so I don’t think rankings really mean anything at this point in time, but I think they’re a really solid dueling team.”

Arizona State finished the 2014-15 campaign with 79-68 dual record and return 15 wrestlers from last year.

Along with Stauffer, Arizona State has one other ranked wrestler at 149-pounds, No. 17 Christian Pagdilao. He will face the Illini’s Kyle Langenderfer, who is No. 14 in the rankings.

No. 1-ranked 157-pounder Isaiah Martinez said that Sunday is all about improvement and getting better to reach another goal, which is to win a second national championship and remain undefeated.

For Martinez, the pressure of being No. 1 and the best in his weight class doesn’t affect him. He said there is always room for improvement and bettering himself as a competitor.

“I was No. 1-ranked last year toward the end of the season, so it didn’t really affect me at that point,” Martinez said. “I kind of just focused on getting better and just always knowing that there’s more to do and I could always get better in some areas.”

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