Illini win over Golden Flashes


Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez attempts to press Kent State’s Ian Miller to the ground during the match at Huff Hall on Sunday. The Illini won 38-0.

By Ethan Swanson

In its first time hosting a NWCA National Duals regional, the Illinois wrestling team (13-4, 6-3 Big Ten) began its postseason Sunday with a 38-0 victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes (7-13, 3-7 MAC). Posting their second-best margin of victory on the season, the Illini saw poise and aggression from their entire lineup for one of the first times this year.

“I think everyone’s gotten better in spots,” head coach Jim Heffernan said. “Everyone has to be on the same page, wrestling to their best ability. That’s what makes a difference.”

After 125-pound senior Jesse Delgado defeated Kent State’s Del Vinas 3-0 to begin the meet, the Illini never took their foot off the gas pedal. They won the remaining nine matches, three of which lasted less than the standard three periods. In the 38-0 win — the Illini’s fifth straight since Jan. 25 — several wrestlers made statements in their matches.

Prior to the NWCA regional, 133-pound sophomore Zane Richards was coming off an upset loss to Wisconsin’s No. 7 Ryan Taylor. In that match, then-No. 3 Richards only lasted two periods before Taylor won by technical fall.

Sunday, however, had a much different outcome. In a match against Kent State’s Kyle Lukowich, Richards scored 14 points in the second period to capture a win by technical fall after jumping out to a dominating 23-7 lead.

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“He beat (Taylor) last year by three points,” assistant coach Mark Perry said. “To get tech falled by him was a learning lesson for Zane. In wrestling, skill is always important, but the most powerful weapon is the right mindset.”

The only match in which both wrestlers were nationally ranked came with the highly anticipated 157-pound bout between No. 2 Isaiah Martinez and Kent State’s No. 6 Ian Miller.

Martinez entered the match undefeated and leading the nation in wins by technical fall with nine. On Sunday, he added yet another impressive credential to his résumé by pinning Miller in the second period, his fourth pin of the season.

“We work in practice on having multiple assets to wrestle with,” Martinez said. “I know I have a big gas tank, so I can go for the full seven minutes. Whether I get one take-down or I get 15, I’m still going to do the same things throughout the entire match.”

The other Illini pin came from junior Jeff Koepke in the second period of his match against Kent State’s Stephen Suglio. Koepke had just upset Wisconsin’s No. 10 Timmy McCall only a week before Sunday.

“He’s been building momentum and looks good,” Heffernan said. “He’s been really offensive in his wrestling lately and scored a bunch of points before he pinned the guy today.”

The Illini will move on to the NWCA National Dual Finals in Iowa City, Iowa, this weekend to start the competition against either No. 2 Missouri or No. 5 Ohio State. The No. 5 Illini are 0-2 this season in duals against teams ranked in the top-five, but the team emphasized its confidence going into the finals and the main goal is to simply keep improving whether the score indicates a win or a loss.

“I still don’t think we’ve competed as well as everyone can at one time,” Heffernan said. “For us, it’s about getting our guys better. If you can’t worry about yourself at this time of the year and focus on what other teams are doing, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Ethan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @EthanSwanson88.