Senior earns All-American honors at championship
March 25, 2019
Six Illinois wrestlers competed in this year’s NCAA Championships at PPG Paint Arena in Pittsburgh. Out of the six wrestlers, redshirt senior Emery Parker was the only one to earn All-American honors by placing fifth in the tournament. This year marked the 28th year in a row Illinois had at least one All-American.
“They all competed hard,” said head coach Jim Heffernan. “But I thought that we had the potential to get a few more guys in the placing round.”
Junior Travis Piotrowski, sophomore Mike Carr, junior Eric Barone and Parker all won their first-round matchups to advance to the second round in session two. Junior Joey Gunther and sophomore Dylan Duncan lost their first matchups in 165-pound and 133-pound weight classes respectively, putting them into the consolation, or wrestlebacks, to start session two.
In the second session, Gunther won his first match in wrestlebacks in a 6-3 decision against Zach Finesilver from Duke. Duncan was eliminated from the tournament when he lost in a 7-5 decision to Oregon State’s Devan Turner.
In the same session, the rest of the Illini wrestlers each took his first loss, moving them all to wrestlebacks.
Piotrowski, at 125-pounds, was eliminated in his first wrestleback match when he lost to Jay Schwarm from Northern Iowa. The other four wrestlers won their first wrestleback matches, but only Parker made it out of session three in the 185-pounds weight class after winning both of his matchups.
“We showed a lot of heart,” Barone said. “We had some tough losses. We definitely didn’t do as well as we wanted to. I think we’re going to come back hungrier next year and surprise a lot of people.”
Parker went on a run after losing his first match, scoring three wins in a row across sessions three and four. He beat Dylan Wiseman from Missouri in the first sudden victory period when he scored a takedown to end the match.
He then beat Cash Wilke of Iowa by a pin and earned a chance to compete for his second All-American honor after winning in a 5-2 decision. Parker’s first All-American nod came last year when he placed third at the NCAA finals.
“He has shown a lot of people that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks,” Barone said. “As long as you wrestle hard and you know how good you are, you can beat anybody.”
After securing the All-American honor, he lost in the third-place match to Myles Martin of Ohio State. This set Parker up to wrestle in what would be his final match for the fifth place title against Chip Ness from North Carolina.
Parker got out to an early lead and never looked back, winning an 11-5 decision after three rounds, and finished his career as an All-American for Illinois.
“Being an Illini is representing my state and where I come from,” Parker said. “Whenever I go out there, I think how many people that I’ve put their time on the line. Their resources, experience, everything on the line in order to make me better. When I wrestle, I look at it as my way of giving back to some of those people. When everything’s said and done, it’s giving back to the people who have given so much to me and sacrificed a lot for me.”
To Heffernan, Parker has been a leader by example for the entire Illinois team for multiple years, and Heffernan noticed his accomplishments, which have come from his hard work ethic.
This tournament capped off a rough season for Illinois, which went 2-9 overall and only won one Big Ten dual meet over Michigan State.
“We have some holes to fill for next season, and the returning guys all need to improve,” Heffernan said. “Our goals will be the same as always and that is to be competitive on the national level.”