Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez has put himself in position to become the 26th three-time individual champ in the 86-year history of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Penn State’s Nick Nevills, meanwhile, finished fifth by avenging a loss at the three-day tournament at the Scotttrade Center in St. Louis.
Martinez, the top-ranked junior who prepped at Lemoore High, defeated Wisconsin’s No. 4 Isaac Jordan 2-1 in the 165-pound semifinals Friday night.
Martinez, who won national titles at 157 pounds as a freshman and sophomore, will face Penn State’s No. 3 Vincenzo Joseph on Saturday in the finals, which will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 5 p.m. Joseph beat No. 2 Logan Massa of Michigan 5-4 in the other semifinal.
Martinez has beaten Joseph twice previously this season, a 5-2 decision during a dual against Penn State on Feb. 10 and an 8-5 decision during the Big Ten Championship tournament.
The last three-time NCAA champion was Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer, who accomplished the feat last year. Former Fresno State star Stephen Abas (1999, 2001-02) also was a three-time champion.
Only Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, 1994), Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002), Cornell’s Kyle Duke (2010-13) and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (2012-15) have captured four NCAA individual titles since the tournament launched in 1928.
Martinez (31-1) defeated No. 9 Chandler Rogers of Oklahoma State 10-5 in the quarterfinals earlier Friday, and opened the tournament Thursday with a 14-4 major decision over Northern Illinois’ Shaun’Qae McMurtry in the first round and an 8-5 decision over Minnesota’s No. 16 Nicholas Wanzek in the round of 16.
Martinez is 98-1 in his three-year college career. Martinez was a three-time CIF State champion while at Lemoore.
Nick Nevills places fifth
Former Clovis High standout and fifth-ranked Nevills (25-5) placed fifth in the 285-pound division, winning a rematch with Duke’s No. 4 Jacob Kasper in his final match. Nevills won 4-3 in overtime after dropping a 3-1 decision to Kasper in the quarterfinals.
Nevills reached the consolation semifinals with a 6-4 victory Friday night over Minnesota’s No. 8 Michael Kroells but lost Saturday 5-3 to Virgina Tech’s No. 3 Ty Walz.
Nevills, a sophomore competing in the NCAA Championships for the first time, rebounded from his Friday loss to Kasper with a 2-0 victory over Pittsburgh’s Ryan Soloman in the consolation bracket.
On Thursday, Nevills (22-4) beat Lehigh’s Doug Vollaro 4-2 and Edinboro’s No. 12 William Miller 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals.
Nevills was a three-time state champion while at Clovis.
Gasca, Zach Nevills compete
Also on Thursday, two other wrestlers with local ties – Michigan State 141-pounder Javier Gasca (Kingsburg) and Stanford 184-pounder Zach Nevills (Clovis) – both went 0-2 and were eliminated.
Gasca, who was injured in the semifinals of the Big Ten Championships, lost his opening match by an 18-3 technical fall to Penn State’s Jimmy Gulibon and medically forfeited his second match, ending his junior season 27-10. Gasca, who is 63-25 in his college career, had pinned Gulibon in 6:20 during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten championships.
Zach Nevills, Nick’s older brother, reached the NCAA Championships for the first time after winning a Pacific-12 Conference title as an unseeded competitor. Nevills, a senior, finished the season 6-11 and 55-47 in his career.