One of the best wrestlers in Illinois history is coming back to Champaign.
Coach Mike Poeta announced Friday that the team has added Isaiah Matinez to the staff as an assistant coach.
Poeta said the addition of the two-time NCAA champ makes the program “a lot stronger.”
“No other coach could match his familiarity with the Illinois program and success in not only the Big Ten, but the country,” Poeta said in a statement. “It didn’t take very long for Isaiah to become the most decorated wrestler in Illinois history en route to winning two NCAA titles and four Big Ten titles.
Over the past two years, Martinez has served as an assistant at Oregon State.
But he’s remembered for winning NCAA titles at 157 pounds in 2015 and 2016, and finishing second at nationals at 165 pounds the next two years. He finished his career 116-3, with two of those losses coming in the national championship match.
“I look forward to working alongside Mike and the rest of the staff in developing successful student-athletes,” Martinez said. The Fighting Illini have a rich tradition in wrestling, one of which I am proud to have contributed to as an athlete. I’m excited to have the opportunity to help further contribute to that tradition now as a coach.”
Just to make this a bit more personal, here’s what I wrote in 2019 about my experience covering I-Mar as a student at Illinois back in 2015. It was pretty darn cool.
But, as a freshman on-air reporter at The Daily Illini, I started my collegiate career covering a sport I knew — and still know — nothing about: wrestling.
Suddenly, without any prior reporting experience, I’m thrown into the fire and headed to the third floor of Huff Hall every week to interview some of the Illini wrestlers — especially Isaiah Martinez.
One of those days where I went to Huff for interviews sticks out in my head more than anything else. I showed up early — I’m always on time, FOR EVERYTHING — and I’m standing off in the corner of the natural-lit wrestle room. Mats are everywhere, and one rope hangs from the ceiling.
And that’s when I see I-Mar, who was notable for going undefeated and winning the national championship for his weight class as a freshman. He climbs that rope so quickly, and, three years later, I have never seen an athletic feat that comes close to matching that.
For Martinez, that was likely easy.
For me, it opened my eyes to what athleticism is. And he had it.