The Daily Illini

Illini wrestling sees leadership in Emery Parker


At the end of practice, former Illini wrestling star who became an assistant coach, Isaiah Martinez, gave a speech. He called for the athletes to compete harder than they had all summer during this upcoming weekend in the team’s first meet of the season.

Martinez, who had much success as an Illini throughout his five years, including two NCAA championships, came back to the University to give back to the program.

“A lot of it is passion,” Martinez said. “When you are done competing on the college level, it is not like that passion goes away. It’s not like that knowledge dissipates; you have to do something with it.”

The Illini will look to feed off this experience throughout the year.

The star senior this season for the Illini may very well be redshirt senior Emery Parker. He comes in ranked No. 2 in the 184th weight class in the nation and wants to be a national champion.

Parker is confident in his skills going into his senior year coming off an All-American season because of his 18 years of experience in the sport.

“This year, you’d think it’s more difficult,” Parker said. “You’re in your head more because it’s your last chance, but honestly for me, I think it’s going to be the easiest year of all.”

Parker appreciated the time off and was focused on his strength and conditioning to be able to come back this season and compete at a high level.

“It was a good time to take some time off,” Parker said, “learning how to appreciate it again and being excited and to come back was a big thing for me. Just learning how to make wrestling fun again.”

Head coach Jim Heffernan sees his new leader in Parker after graduating Martinez. The Illini will need that leadership heading into this season and this weekend.

“[He’s] a great athlete, great in school, and a great example for these guys,” said Heffernan. “He’ll do a good job I think.”

The Illini will kick off their season at Grange Grove against Missouri on Saturday afternoon. It will be the Illini’s first-ever outdoor home match. Although, the team has competed outdoors before; for example, last year when Missouri hosted a very similar event. 

The Illini lost the dual meet against Missouri in their opener last year 20-17. The matchup was competitive and the Illini look to win some of the close ones they were not able to finish out last year.

“There was a couple close ones [last year]. Just like most wrestling matches, there’s gonna be toss-up matches that on paper are evenly matched,” Heffernan said. “You have to win those to be a good team, that’s just what it is.”

Parker won his matchup last year against Missouri wrestler Canten Marriott and looks to contribute to a team win on Saturday.

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