Illini wrestling takes on defending national champion Ohio State on Sunday at Huff

By Alex Wallner

The No. 11-ranked Illinois wrestling team will take on defending national champion No. 6 Ohio State on Sunday at Huff Hall.

This will be the first Big Ten bout for the Illini this season and the second for the Buckeyes, as it is coming off a 26-17 road victory over Northwestern two weeks ago.

Ohio State is 4-1 on the season with the only defeat coming to fourth-ranked Missouri in Columbia, Missouri on Dec. 12.

Coming into Sunday’s matinee, the Buckeyes featured wrestler is No. 1-ranked, 125-pound Nathan Tomasello, who comes in with a 9-0 record on the season.

Last season, Ohio State finished 8-1 in the conference with a tie for first place at the 2015 Big Ten Championships, but did not face the Illini during the regular season.

The last time the Illini and Buckeyes squared off in a regular season contest was during the 2013-2014 season, where Ohio State defeated Illinois in Champaign, 18-16.

Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan said that Ohio State will surely miss four-time 141-pound national champion Logan Steiber, who graduated, but credited the team’s strength at every weight class.

“It’s tough to lose a guy like that,” Heffernan said. “You know, at some point, you’re going to graduate everybody. They’ll find a way to overcome it, I’m sure, and they got plenty of other good guys. A team like that just reloads and they’ll have another solid guy at the weight I’m sure.”

The Buckeyes new 141-pound starter is Micah Jordan. This year Jordan is ranked ninth in the weight class with a 12-1 record – his only defeat coming against No. 12-ranked Matt Manley of Missouri.

Jordan will likely face Illinois’ Brock Ervin, who comes into the match with a 6-2 record.

No. 1 ranked, 157-pound Isaiah Martinez said that the Big Ten season is the point of the season where all the hard work is bound to pay off.

“We’re just excited to get the Big Ten dual season started,” Martinez said. “We want to show people what we’re about. We’re really trying to have our fans understand what we’re about and that’s wrestling hard and just enjoying the fight.”

Martinez is set to face No. 13-ranked Jake Ryan. The redshirt freshman is currently 11-0 on the season. Martinez is 14-0 this season and 8-0 in dual matches.

Heffernan said that he doesn’t see why Ohio State couldn’t repeat this season, despite the conference’s tough lineup. The Illini bring six wrestlers ranked in the top 20 on Sunday.

One of the six ranked Illini bouts is at 133-pounds, where No. 9 Zane Richards will take on eighth-ranked Johnni DiJulius of Ohio State. DiJulius is 12-4 this season, while Richards is 13-0.

Martinez believes that the amount of depth his team has is enough for it to compete in the country’s toughest conference and possibly win a Big Ten championship for the first time since 2005.

“Yea, it’s crazy right now,” Martinez said. “We just have to be fired up and ready to go. We’re going to see what we’re made of in the dual season and then going into the postseason, we’ll have a lot better idea of where we’re actually at.”

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