The Daily Illini

Wrestling season ends on high note

Fourth-ranked Illinois wrestler Pete Friedl lunges for Jake Herbert´s leg at a dual meet against Northwestern on Feb. 17. Friedl won the decision 11-4 to give third-ranked Herbert his first loss of the season. Troy Stanger

Fourth-ranked Illinois wrestler Pete Friedl lunges for Jake Herbert´s leg at a dual meet against Northwestern on Feb. 17. Friedl won the decision 11-4 to give third-ranked Herbert his first loss of the season. Troy Stanger

By Jon Gluskin

They entered the 2004-2005 wrestling season with five returning All-Americans. They came in ranked preseason No. 4.

Expectations were high.

They ended the 2004-2005 season with five All-Americans, a 16-1-1 regular season record, an undefeated home season, a back-to-back Midlands Championship, a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and a Big Ten Tournament title.

With the exception of failing to win the first National Championship in Illinois history by placing sixth, the season was a success for head coach Mark Johnson and his team.

“I think we had a great season, obviously one of the best since I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “I think we were the second best team in the country, and we didn’t get that accomplished at the right time, but I want to try to focus on what we did accomplish, and not what we didn’t accomplish.”

The Illini dominated their opponents for the majority of the season, going undefeated in Big Ten competition. They tied then No. 5 Michigan 17-17 in Ann Arbor on Feb. 6. They went 7-0-1.

The only loss in the Illini’s season came back at the NWCA National Dual Championships on Jan. 22, in Cleveland against eventual National Champion No. 1 Oklahoma State 22-15. Illinois took second.

At the Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio, on March 6-7, the Illini won the title for the first time since 1952. Juniors Alex Tirapelle (157) and Pete Friedl (174) won the individual titles, and Johnson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.

“We won a championship,” Johnson said. “We’ve never considered the regular season to be really winning a championship. The Big Ten Tournament was a championship, that’s where our sport’s decided, and that was the biggest accomplishment we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The season did come to a disappointing end for the team in St. Louis, Mo. on March 17-18. The team entered the NCAA Championships ranked No. 2.

“This was our best team, and I don’t think we had our best performance by one of my teams at the National Tournament,” Johnson said.

Things didn’t go as the Illini had hoped, and they finished the season ranked No. 6. Junior Kyle Ott (125) did come in second in his class. He was one of the five school-record-tying All-Americans. The other members were seniors Mark Jayne (133) and Brian Glynn (184), Friedl and sophomore Cassio Pero.

“I think it shows us how solid we are, that we can have five All-Americans out of 10 weight classes,” Johnson said. “That many guys placing in the National Tournament is amazing.”

This was only Pero’s first season as a starter, but he still attained this high wrestling status of All-American.

“I’m still kind of numb to it,” Pero said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. It feels real good. I’ve worked so hard, it’s nice to have something to show for it.”

“I thought it was a pretty long season, a real tough schedule, but I thought we did great as a team. We just wish we had a done a better job (at Nationals). (But) I don’t think it should take away from any of the accomplishments we did receive. We just felt we were capable of accomplishing something at the Nationals, we just fell a little short of that.”

This season also had Glynn and Jayne becoming members of the elite 100-win club.

Pero is hopeful next season will be as successful, if not more, than this campaign. The team will be led by Friedl, Ott, Tirapelle and Pero, who should keep Illinois a wrestling powerhouse, despite losing starters Glynn, Jayne and Anton Dietzen (149).

“We still have great guys on the team,” Pero said. “We’re going to learn from our shortcomings at the NCAA’s. We have a great team and hopefully we’ll be able to put those things together for next year.”

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