An emotional season for Isaiah Martinez closed triumphantly Saturday night at New York City’s Madison Square Garden as the Illinois redshirt sophomore from Lemoore captured a second straight NCAA wrestling title at 157 pounds.
Nearly five months after losing his stepfather, Alfred Garcia, to cancer, Martinez broke a tie with a takedown with 10 seconds remaining and defeated Penn State’s Jason Nolf 6-5.
Martinez (32-1) took a 6-4 lead with the takedown before releasing Nolf (33-2) for an escape with 4 seconds left.
Garcia, who was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 3, 2014, came into Martinez’s life at a year old.
“I told Dad I would win (another) national title and I did,” Martinez told ESPN following the cable network’s live coverage. “I have an amazing coaching staff, family and friends, their love and support. I would be nowhere without them.”
Martinez and Nolf had split this season.
Nolf pinned Martinez in 4:55 in a Big Ten Conference dual on Jan. 23, but Martinez answered with a 4-3 double-overtime decision for the league tournament title two weeks ago.
Martinez was coming off a 35-0 freshman season when he became the NCAA’s first unbeaten rookie champion since Iowa’s Cael Sanderson in 1999. Martinez was then named Amateur Wrestling News Rookie of the Year.
At Lemoore, Martinez delivered one of the most accomplished careers in state history, going 205-7 with three state golds and a bronze. He graduated in 2013 before redshirting as a freshman at Illinois.
Penn State captured its fifth national title in six years. Nittany Lions redshirt freshman heavyweight Nick Nevills of Clovis didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament after returning late in the season following a pectoral muscle tear that required surgery.