National mat focus

Despite knee injury, Mavs' Martinez confident heading into nationals

Colorado Mesa junior James Martinez is a returning All-American and hopes to become the Mavs’ first national wrestling champion this weekend. Martinez enters nationals ranked sixth, but is wrestling with a partially torn MCL in his left knee. The injury hasn’t slowed Martinez, who wrestled at nationals last year with an injured right knee.

Colorado Mesa’s James Martinez, right, won the NCAA West Regional title two weeks ago despite injuring his left knee six weeks ago.

When he injured his left knee six weeks ago, James Martinez still planned to wrestle the rest of the season.

The Colorado Mesa 149-pound junior sustained the injury in a dual against California Baptist on Jan. 30 and didn’t wrestle again until the NCAA West Regional/RMAC Championships two weeks ago.

Martinez is sure it is the same injury he had to his right knee three weeks before regionals last year.

Last year, he had an MRI immediately, and it revealed a partially torn medial collateral ligament. This year, he didn’t bother with an MRI, but he will see a doctor Monday.

“I was like: It doesn’t really matter,” Martinez said. “An MRI would’ve told me I was hurt, but I decided I was going to wrestle. Hopefully it’s not torn completely in half and I can make it through regionals and nationals.”

He rehabbed his knee every day for the past six weeks, but partially torn ligaments need rest to completely heal. That won’t happen until next week when he returns from the NCAA Division II national championships in Cleveland. The tournament is Friday and Saturday.

“My knee still hurts,” Martinez admitted. “I tweaked it, and it hurt like hell. I’m trying to overcome the mental side of that more than anything. I feel like technically, I don’t see why I can’t beat everyone in the tournament as long as mentally and physically I can perform to the ability I have.”

Martinez (15-2) is ranked sixth in the nation entering the national tournament. He wrestles Brent Fickel (28-7) of Ashland (Ohio) in the first round. The wrestlers ranked second, third, fourth and seventh in the nation are in his half of the bracket.

“It worries him, of course. It’s one of those things, but I think he’s stronger than he’s making it out to be,” CMU coach Chuck Pipher said. “He’s a pretty solid wrestler. For the most part, he keeps himself out of tough situations.”

Martinez will be joined by Colorado Mesa teammates Chester Granard and Paco Retana at nationals.

Granard (20-2) has put together a solid season after missing the second half of last season with ulcerative colitis, but he barely qualified for nationals with a third-place finish at regionals.

“Chester’s been fighting some things,” Pipher said. “We’re working on some things to get him right.

“He can give guys fits when he’s on a roll. He’s got to get on that roll.”

Retana (14-8) has wrestled well lately, upsetting the top-seeded wrestler in the regional.

“Paco’s dangerous,” Pipher said. “If they make a mistake on Paco, anything can happen.

“I’d love to see Paco be an All-American. If he gets on a roll, he wrestles with a lot of confidence. The thing about Paco, he’s been working super hard in here.

“He’s fun to coach. You never know what it will look like, but he’ll give you everything he has.”

Martinez is a returning All-American and hopes to win a national title.

He has defeated every Division II wrestler he’s faced this year. His only losses were to Division I wrestlers.

“You spend so much time in the room, you don’t have a choice but to get better because you’re in here all the time,” Martinez said. “I have a great workout partner. Trevor Donarski and I have worked out every single day. I feel like he’s second to me as the best technician in the room. It’s nice to have that competitive edge every single day.”

Martinez admits the knee worries him some, but he remains confident he can perform on it because he qualified for nationals and earned All-America honors last year with a sixth-place finish.

“Injury or not, my goal hasn’t changed,” Martinez said. “I’ll be as disappointed as a person can be if I don’t win a national title, but if I can win a national title with an injured knee, how great would that be?”

Pipher isn’t counting Martinez out regardless of the knee.

“Anything can happen at the national tournament, but if he has a good tournament and doesn’t get hurt or doesn’t tweak it, I think he can finish in the top three,” Pipher said. “I’m not going to say he can’t be a national champ, either. It’s a tough weight, but he’s a tough kid.”


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