Illini win Big Tens

Illinois 157 lb. wrestler Alex Tirapelle wrestles Indiana´s Brandon Beck Feb. 13 at Huff Hall. Online Poster

Illinois 157 lb. wrestler Alex Tirapelle wrestles Indiana´s Brandon Beck Feb. 13 at Huff Hall. Online Poster

By Erik Hall

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Illinois’ lightest wrestler had the job of carrying the Illini’s biggest trophy out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.

Junior Kyle Ott (125) needed both arms to lug Illinois’ Big Ten Championship trophy up the tunnel to the team bus.

“It feels heavy after wrestling for two days and I’m pretty tired, but it feels great to win this (trophy),” Ott said as he walked out of Carver-Hawkeye after finishing second Sunday. “We worked really hard; we did well as a team and we got this.”

The trophy Ott helped carry back to Champaign removed 53 years of struggles for Illinois wrestling. The Illini last won a Big Ten Wrestling Championship in 1952.

Juniors Pete Friedl and Alex Tirapelle won individual titles Sunday. Illinois had six wrestlers finish in the top three at the two-day meet.

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“We wanted to perform,” Friedl said. “We were the co-dual team champions of the Big Ten and had five guys in the finals. We didn’t want it to come off as a fluke that we made it. We wanted to have a couple champions and win this thing. Alex did a good job coming back and I did a good job coming back. We wanted to come out here and show that we deserve to be here.”

Both Friedl and Tirapelle won their championship bout by a 4-3 decision. The difference in the championship for each wrestler came from a takedown late in the match.

Friedl’s winning takedown came with three seconds remaining. Tirapelle earned his winner a little sooner with 15 seconds to go.

“They were both great matches and we talk all about that you got to wrestle seven minutes – not six minutes and 45 seconds or six minutes and 50 seconds,” said Illinois head coach Mark Johnson. “They both proved that today. Without those two wins, we would not be Big Ten Champions right now.”

Illinois won the Big Ten Championship with 130 points. Minnesota finished second with 123.5 points, Michigan took third place with 118 points, and Iowa came in fourth with 94.5 points.

Illinois is only the third school to win a postseason Big Ten Championship in the last 32 years. Before Sunday, Minnesota or Iowa had won every postseason Big Ten Championship since Michigan won in 1973.

“(Illinois assistant coach) Jim (Heffernan) was telling me in the last 32 years only Iowa and Minnesota have won it, and for us to do that it is just an amazing accomplishment,” said senior Brian Glynn (184). “It just shows how Mark and (assistant coach Jim Heffernan) have really turned this program around.

“I think we felt we owed it to Mark and Jim just to finally break through and finally wrap it up. We knew we could do it. We just had to go out and prove it.”

Glynn finished second in the 184-pound weight class. He was one of nine Illinois wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships from the Big Ten Championships. The NCAA Championships are March 17-19 in St. Louis.

Sunday’s Big Ten Championship trophy accompanies the dual meet season championship trophies the Illini earned in 2004 and 2005.

“I don’t want to start talking about a dynasty, but this is another step,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can take another step in two weeks and go (to St. Louis) and compete for a national championship and represent our university well. Illinois is a great place to be and they treat me well. It’s definitely the last place I’m going to coach.”