BY CHAD BEYLER, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS | DEC. 20, 2015, 9:57 P.M. (ET)
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RENO, Nev. – In the team’s first tournament-style competition of the season, five Illini won an individual title, while three others placed second at the Reno Tournament of Champions. As a result of the dominating individual performances, Coach Heffernan’s squad won the team competition as well, finishing with 152 points despite having no wrestlers compete at 125 pounds or 149 pounds.
“Our team looked very solid and we are getting better each week,” said Heffernan. “Still have time to figure things out as we move on. The Big Ten season will force our guys to raise their level even more, which we will have to. “[I thought] both Emory [Parker] and Andre [Lee] had good days and had solid wins, both are making progress and getting better.”
No. 3 Zane Richards continued his dominating start to 2015-16 with five victories on the afternoon, four of which were by major decision or greater. The junior began the day with back-to-back pins over Pt Garica and Michal McDaniel before using a decision over Jaydin Clayton (Missouri) and Corey Keener (Central Michigan) to reach the title bout. Once there, Richards wasted no time as he jumped out to an early 12-2 lead and never relinquished it, claiming a 20-8 final tally against Corey Keener of Central Michigan.
At 149 pounds, redshirt freshman Isaac Reinemann finished the day with two tough losses, falling in the first round and the consolation round, his day ending after Tyler Cowger (Southern Oregon) edged him 4-0.
No. 1 Isaiah Martinez notched consecutive wins 51-56 on Sunday afternoon in Reno on his way to a convincing first-place finish in Reno. Martinez reached the 157-pound title match with four technical falls accompanied by his third pin of the season. In the title bout, Joe Smith of Oklahoma State gave him his best test of the day, but eventually succumbed to the defending national champion by a count of 11-5.
No. 9 Steven Rodrigues impressed again with five victories to push his record to a perfect 13-0 on the season. The senior used three major decisions and a technical fall to advance to the 165-pound championship bout. Rodrigues was tested by Jim Wilson of Stanford in a hard-fought, low scoring affair through most of three periods, but Rodrigues battled his way to a 3-2 decision to earn the individual title.
The most dominating start to the tournament came from No. 4 Zac Brunson as he piled on three pins in his first three matches, giving him eight on the season and more than doubling his career total entering the season. After a decision and technical fall in the 174-pound quarterfinal and semifinal, Brunson notched his own individual crown with an 8-4 victory over Big Ten foe Nate Jackson of Indiana.
184 pounds proved to be the most compelling weight class for the Illini in Reno, as both No. 16 Jeff Koepke and Emory Parker worked their way through the bracket. Koepke recorded a team-high four falls on the afternoon on his route to the title bout, while Emory Parker used grit to fight his way through four decisions, before grabbing a semifinal clinching pin. With both teammates undefeated on the day, the 184-pound title bout would be the decider. Although Parker stayed within in striking distance of Koepke into the third period, the veteran Koepke proved too much for the younger Parker, taking the bout by a score of 8-4.
Much like Parker, Andre Lee showed grit and toughness as he grinded out decisions on his way to the semifinal round this afternoon. After earning a late pin against Garrett Demers (MSU-Northern), Lee gave Marshall Haas (Citadel) everything he could handle in the title match. However, Haas moved ahead of Lee in the third period, and held on for a 4-2 victory.
After receiving an opening bye to start the heavyweight bracket, No. 13 Brooks Black edged Eskam Chace (Arizona State) 2-1, and then tacked on three more decisions to reach the championship match. However, Tanner Harms (Wyoming) got the best of Black, edging him 4-1 to place first.
Next up for the Orange and Blue will be Midlands a week from Tuesday where they will look to improve upon their second place finish last year. Coverage will begin at 9 a.m. on BTN Plus on December 29 and concludes with the championship matches live on Big Ten Network Wednesday, December 30 at 8 p.m.
Oklahoma State release by Taylor Miller - OSU freshmen Nick Piccininni and Joe Smith win silver medals
Oklahoma State wrestling freshmen Nick Piccininni and Joe Smith made their ways to the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions at 125 and 157 pounds, respectively, on Sunday night.
Smith had a smooth ride to the semifinals, handily defeating each of his opponents. In his first match of the day, he pinned Tino Nieves of Highline in less than 30 seconds. He went on to tally another fall and two major decisions to find himself in the semifinals against Luke Smith of Central Michigan. Luke struck first with a takedown, but Joe tied the match at the end of the first period with a reversal. The Cowboy notched another reversal in the third period and earned riding time advantage to win, 5-4, and send him to the finals. Waiting for him was 2015 NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez. The two exchanged takedowns, but a four-point nearfall from Martinez separated him from Smith and he took the match, 11-5.
At 125 pounds, freshman Nick Piccininni produced a runner-up finish. He took on Wyoming junior Drew Templeman in the finals. The Cowboy started the day with a technical fall and a major decision and met up with Chasen Tolbert of Utah Valley in the semifinals, who he bested in a high-scoring 11-8 match. In the finals, Templeman controlled most of the match, walking away with a 15-8 win.
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