Behind the performances of Big Ten Champions Alex Tirapelle (157) and Pete Friedl (174), the Illini wrestling team won their first Big Ten team title since 1952 with a final score of 130. Head coach Mark Johnson was named the 2005 Big Ten Coach of the Year, his second time to win the award (2001). Tirapelle won his second Big Ten title and Friedl his first. The Illini placed nine wrestlers in the conference's top-6 to ensure all nine will be in St. Louis in two weeks for the NCAA Championships. Illinois' 130 points also tie the school record for the Big Ten Championship.
"This is a great accomplishment for our program," Johnson said. "I have said all along that this is a step for our program. If you can win this tournament, then it means you can win a national title - they are almost one in the same. It was very special to win it here (Iowa City). I spent 10 years of my life here. If it wasn't Champaign, I'm glad it was Iowa City."
"Our team wrestled pretty well today, not great," Johnson continued. "But we talked on the way over here about finishing and that's what Alex (Tirapelle) and Pete (Friedl) did today. We knew we had clinched the title heading into the Brian's (Glynn) match and that took a little bit of the pressure off us."
The Illini entered the day's activities with five individuals in the finals, but lost the first two bids at titles. Kyle Ott (Jr., Huber Heights, Ohio), the 125-pound No. 1 seed, got the first takedown over No. 2 Nick Simmons of Michigan State, but Simmons scored a takedown in the second to give him a 4-2 win. At 133 pounds, Mark Jayne (Sr., Elyria, Ohio) lost only his third match of the year, but unfortunately all three came at the hands of No. 2 seed Mack Reiter of Minnesota. Reiter locked Jayne up for a pin at 4:34. The team race became heated at that time as Illinois only led the Gophers by 5.5 points. Michigan also became a factor in the team race as they pulled to within eight points of Illinois with champions at 141 and 149.
The 157-pound final became pivotal in Illinois' title hopes as Tirapelle (Jr., Clovis, Calif.) faced Michigan's Ryan Bertin for a rematch of last year's finals. Bertin got on the board first with a reversal in the second period. Two escapes for Tirapelle tied the match at two apiece. With the clock ticking down, Tirapelle scored a quick single-leg takedown at the 18-second mark for the final 4-3 victory. Tirapelle won his 96th career victory with his finals championship. With the win, he also tied the series record with Bertin, each having four wins apiece. The four points for the team gave Illinois 125, a six-point cushion over Minnesota. Still not out of harm's way, the Illini solidified the race with its win in the 174 pound finals.
"I am definitely more excited about the team win," Tirapelle said. "We haven't won since 1952, that's a long time for a team. Ryan and I have wrestled eight times and we're four and four. Nothing really changes with us. We both go out and wrestle our own match."
Friedl (Jr., Orland Park, Ill.) met Northwestern's Jake Herbert for the rubber match between the two wrestlers. Working off a shot by Friedl, Herbert scored first with a takedown in the first period. Friedl got two escapes to tie the match, but a Herbert escape in the third gave him a one-point lead, until Friedl hit a strong double-leg with three seconds remaining to win 4-3. In the last of Illinois' five finals matches, senior Brian Glynn (Orland Park, Ill.) couldn't come up with the offensive score, dropping a 3-2 decision to Penn State's Eric Bradley, the tournament's No. 2 seed at 184.
"We can celebrate this for awhile. We worked extremely hard all year for this title and I think we deserve it," Glynn said. "I am almost more happy about winning it for Mark (Johnson) and Jim (assistant coach Heffernan) because it shows the hard work and dedication they have given to the program."
Four other wrestlers placed for the Illini. At 141 pounds, Cassio Pero (So., Chicago Heights, Ill.) exceeded his seed (No. 4) with a third-place victory over Northwestern's Ryan Lang, 4-2. Junior Tyrone Byrd (Jr., Clinton, Ill.) got the upset at 197 pounds over No. 2 seed Nathan Moore of Purdue. Donny Reynolds (So., Frankfort, Ill.) at 165 and heavyweight Mike Behnke (So., Villa Park, Ill.) both took sixth.
The Illini will be back in action in two weeks at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo., March 17-19. During Mark Johnson's 12-year tenure at Illinois, the Illini have finished in the top-10 on eight occasions with the best placing of fifth in 2001.
1. Illinois - 130
2. Minnesota - 123.5
3. Michigan - 118
4. Iowa - 94.5
5t. Indiana - 89
5t. Wisconsin - 89
7. Penn State - 72.5
8. Michigan State - 70.5
9. Northwestern - 68.5
10. Purdue - 38.5
11. Ohio State - 26.5
Story from the U of I press release
Illini Wrestlers Are Big Ten Champs!
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