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Illinois wrestling prepares for big weekend in California

Illinois%27+Isaiah+Martinez+celebrates+after+defeating+Michigan%27s+Logan+Massa+in+the+165-pound+weight+class+during+the+match+at+Huff+Hall+on+Jan.+20.+Martinez+won+by+decision+and+the+Illini+defeated+the+Wolverines+34-6.
Illinois' Isaiah Martinez celebrates after defeating Michigan's Logan Massa in the 165-pound weight class during the match at Huff Hall on Jan. 20. Martinez won by decision and the Illini defeated the Wolverines 34-6.

Illinois' Isaiah Martinez celebrates after defeating Michigan's Logan Massa in the 165-pound weight class during the match at Huff Hall on Jan. 20. Martinez won by decision and the Illini defeated the Wolverines 34-6.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Isaiah Martinez celebrates after defeating Michigan's Logan Massa in the 165-pound weight class during the match at Huff Hall on Jan. 20. Martinez won by decision and the Illini defeated the Wolverines 34-6.

By Rishab Sikri, Contributing writer

After a disappointing loss against Missouri in the season opener, the Illinois wrestling team is looking to turn things around as it travels to California for a weekend of competition.

On Friday, No. 16 Illinois will be at Fresno State for a dual meet against the Bulldogs. After a one-day break, the Illini will be headed to Bakersfield, California, for the Roadrunner Open on Sunday.  

Fresno State has a wrestling team for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and it features a ranked wrestler in Emilio Saavedra. Ranking No. 14 in the 133-pound weight class, he will likely face off against Illinois redshirt freshman Dylan Duncan, who is ranked No. 17. Duncan, who narrowly missed pulling off an upset against Missouri during his last matchup, is looking forward to the opportunity to rebound.

“I’m real excited,” Duncan said. “That was my first college wrestling match wearing an Illini singlet, and I was upset I didn’t get the win. I want to go out there and really prove myself and do well wearing the colors”.

Illinois will be starting six ranked wrestlers against Fresno State. Some of the probable matchups include No. 14 Travis Piotrowski against Sean Williams in the 125-pound class, No. 19 Eric Barone against Kristian Olivas in the 149-pound class, No. 8 Emery Parker against Angel Solis in the 184-pound weight class and No. 2 Isaiah Martinez against Isaiah Hokit in the 165-pound weight class.

This match will be a homecoming for Martinez, as the redshirt senior is returning to the state where he grew up. The Lemoore, California, native was a three-time California state champion in high school, and at Fresno State, he is looking to achieve his 100th career college victory in front of a hometown crowd. Despite approaching this enormous milestone, Martinez has even bigger things on his mind. He will be competing at the U-23 World Championships on Nov. 26 as a member of Team USA, after qualifying on Oct. 8.

“More than anything, I’m preparing for the World Championships,” Martinez said.  “If I’m preparing for a level that is that high – the best wrestlers in the world – the college wrestling will take care of itself. Basically, what I’ve been doing is taking care of my body, doing the right things and focusing on the task at hand.”

The Roadrunner Open will be Illinois’ first appearance in the tournament in three years, and the team will be competing against seven other programs, including Wisconsin, Stanford and Maryland. Other schools competing will be Cal Poly, CSU Bakersfield and Fresno State.

With a huge weekend ahead, the Illini are hoping the results of their preparation will show. 

“Everyone has been training real hard (this week),” Duncan said. “We’re excited to compete. Everyone’s been eating well, practicing hard, so I think we’re going to go out there and do really well as a team.”

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