The NCAA Wrestling Championships wrapped up Saturday night and three Illinois Fighting Illini are All-Americans for 2017.
It’s the second straight season with three All-Americans, but for the first time since 2012, Illinois does not have an individual national champion. Isaiah Martinez’ dream season was ended midway through the third period of the 165lb finals when he was pinned by Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State. He was 2-0 against Joseph this season, and he ended his third season with only his second loss. Both of his defeats have come at the hands of Penn State Nittany Lions, but this one was in the national championship match.
I’ve described Martinez as “an American Pit Bull Terrier that someone wished to be human” due to his powerful back, prominent neck, sturdy build, squarish face and remarkable endurance. With that comparison in mind, you can almost hear Sarah Mclachlan when you see him on the podium:
No shame in national runner-up. Another great season from I-Mar! #Illini pic.twitter.com/Qtj0BtBPYs— Illini Wrestling (@IlliniWrestling) March 19, 2017
Nevertheless, he is an All-American for the third straight year and finishes 31-1 and will be a strong contender to win the title next year and become Illinois’ first three-time national champion.
Senior Zac Brunson finished in sixth place in the 174lb weight class, securing All-American honors for the first time. He racked up 32 wins on the year and made his fourth NCAA tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals before being pinned by Cornell’s Brian Realbuto. He worked his way through the consolation bracket but was pinned by Realbuto again to land in sixth. He finishes his career with 107 wins
Fellow senior Zane Richards ended up in seventh place at the 133lb class after losing a narrow decision to #1 seed Nathan Tomasello in the quarterfinals and winning 14-6 in the consolation bracket against Minnesota’s Mitch McKee to clinch a spot on the podium. It’s his second year as an All-American and like Brunson he qualified for the NCAA tournament all four years.
184-lb contender Emery Parker was pinned at the end of a hard-fought quarterfinal bout against Iowa’s Sammy Brooks after knocking off defending champion Myles Martin in his second match. He was kept off the podium by a 3-1 sudden victory loss in the consolation bracket.
With five individual champions, Penn State easily won their sixth title in the past seven years. Illinois finished 11th overall, behind an astounding six Big Ten teams.