Senior Jeff Koepke wins Minnesota dual for Illini wrestling

By Alex Wallner

The Illinois wrestling team was tied at 16 with Minnesota going into the final match of the evening —  senior Jeff Koepke’s last bout at Huff Hall.

Koepke started off the scoring with two takedowns in the first period to make it 4-2 after the first frame.

Heading into the final period, with the winner grabbing the dual win, Koepke held a 5-2 lead. Koepke added one more takedown in the final frame to give Illinois its second straight win heading into the postseason.

Excited after the match, Koepke said that he’s used to starting the dual early as opposed to late, but said that it was fun to go out there and secure the win for the team.

“The past few years, Minnesota’s beaten us, but this year we took it to them a little more, we were the guys being the aggressors it seemed like,” Koepke said. “My guy just wrestled like Minnesota wrestlers, typically, he kept coming the whole time and he fought a good match.”

No. 18 Minnesota (9-8, 5-4) took an early 7-0 lead over No. 12 Illinois (12-5, 4-5) before the Illini started their string of wins.

Freshman Francis Edelen won his second match of the season at 125 pounds over Skyler Petry by decision, 3-2, to erase the Golden Gopher lead to four with No. 2 Zane Richards approaching the mat at 133 pounds.

Richards came out in full attack mode, earning four takedowns and two four-point near falls to earn the technical fall and give Illinois an 8-7 lead.

At 157 pounds, No. 2 Isaiah Martinez took his 22-1 record to the mat against Brandon Kingsley (18-10).

Martinez defeated Kingsley by major decision, 15-6, with six takedowns, to earn his 23rd win on the season.

Martinez said that he wasn’t particularly impressed with how Kingsley wrestled, as he wasn’t really trying to win the match – instead he was trying to just keep the match close.

“A lot of times now, guys aren’t trying to win the match, they’re trying to stall and keep it close,” Martinez said. “It is what it is and if a guy wants to grab on two of my wrists and not do anything with them, than that’s his fault and there’s not a way to win the match.”

Martinez added that he grows frustrated when his opponents go with that strategy.

Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan said that he was happy from the performances of Edelen and Koepke in particular.

“It was great for Francis,” Heffernan said. “Kid’s hung in there all year, done a great job and I was proud of the way he fought and found a way to win. Koepke was great at the end and after an upset match sometimes it’s difficult to go out and perform, but he did a very good job and it was a great way for him to end his senior career at home.”

The upset of the day came at 174 pounds, as No. 4 Zac Brunson lost to unranked Nicholas Wanzek of Minnesota by a 13-10 decision.

The loss was Brunson’s second of the season and Heffernan said the only thing that was different with him was that he gave up a six-point reversal.

“He gave up a six-point reversal and then gave up another takedown as he was trying to finish,” Heffernan said. “So essentially, he kind of the gave the guy points and that’s what made the difference, but Zac is sound enough and is experienced enough to where he can’t let that stuff happen.”

[email protected]

@AWallner93