Staying hungry in final season at Illinois

Staying hungry in final season at Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — Isaiah Martinez added three more wins to his career total this fall, notching No. 100 in mid-November in front of a hometown crowd in Fresno, Calif. Between that and No. 101 earlier this month, the Illinois redshirt senior placed fifth at the U23 World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Illinois returns to action Dec. 29 at the 55th Ken Kraft Midlands in Hoffman Estates — an event Martinez won in 2014 and 2016. Until then, the Illini are in full training mode.

"When we have breaks — I like to say breaks — from competition, those are the toughest training weeks," Martinez said of the Illini, who ran sprints at the Armory late Thursday morning. "The other day we did a 60-minute live go. That's pretty hard, too, but when they make us put our running shoes on and go do some sprints, you know, I was throwing up over the trash can.

"That's the nature of when you don't have competition any time soon. (The coaches) are like, 'Now we can really push the envelope because they don't have to recover for a meet.'"

Martinez has racked up the accomplishments and accolades in his Illinois career. He won the 2016 University Freestyle Nationals, has three Big Ten championships and claimed NCAA titles in 2015 and 2016.

Despite a taste of the international wrestling scene this fall and prospects for more — say, ultimately, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — Martinez remains focused on his season ahead. He avenged his first collegiate loss by beating Penn State's Jason Noff for the 2016 NCAA title. His only other loss came in last season's title match.

"Those are big-time, legacy-defining moments," Martinez said. "I don't think you ever truly get over those kind of things. I'll never truly get over it. ... Maybe things didn't go right up to that moment, so what happens next time? It's time to adjust. It's time to get better and be ready the next time the bell rings."