By SETH SCHWARTZ
The 54th Ken Kraft Midlands Wrestling Championships are the midseason measuring stick.
Friday night Dec. 30 at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena gave competitors a chance to see where they are before the conference grind gets underway.
Top-rated Isaiah Martinez (165) took his second Midlands title, this time with a hard-fought 10-6 decision over Rider’s Chad Walsh. Tied at five going into the third period, Walsh put him on his back. But even when opponents catch Martinez, it’s rare they are able to secure the hold for two.
“He caught my momentum as I was coming up with the headlock and was able to use it as I was going forward,” said Martinez. “It was a bit of panic, but I knew I just had to keep fighting and not give up in that position. In those 50-50 positions, it’s more a battle of will at that point; it was a matter of using good core strength and flipping my hips.
“I am not happy with way I competed, I wrestled a little bit scared.”
Dominating the class, Martinez had a technical fall, pin and three majors before the final.
Also turning in a fine performance was Old Dominion’s Jack Dechow (184) who lost to Nebraska’s top-seeded Tim Dudley 4-2 in the final.
A stalling point in the first period, an escape and takedown at 1:30 in the second period gave Dudley control of the match.
“My offense needs to be sharper,” said Dechow, who got in on two shots, but couldn’t finish. “The Midlands is like a mini Nationals. You have eight of the top ten guys here. I know what it takes to win. There’s a lot of positives to take from this tournament; I just need to work on fixing the little things.”
In the quarterfinals, he stepped up the pace with a takedown in the second and third period for a convincing 7-4 decision over Ohio State’s Myles Martin, who was the national champion at 174 last season.
“I could feel him starting to slow down in the second period,” said Dechow, who was seeded No. 7. “I am trying to be more offensive. The biggest thing for me this year is mindset. The opportunity for a national championship is there, but I have to be mentally sharp for every match.”
In the semifinal, a takedown during sudden victory gave Dechow a 4-2 decision over Rutgers’ Nick Gravina.
Finding the right class isn’t always easy. Wisconsin’s Ricky Robertson was 2-2 at Nationals his freshman year at 184. Dropping down to 174 last year weighed heavy on him so he moved to 197. At a svelte 194 pounds, he’s a making a successful transition.
“I talked with my coaches before the season and we decided this was the best weight to go,” said Robertson, who took fourth losing a 2-1 tiebreaker to Northern Illinois’ Shawn Scott. “I feel like I am quicker and more athletic than the guys at this weight. I need to hit my shots and finish and not get caught by guys using heavy hips.”