Fighting Illini Set To Compete At 71st NCAA Wrestling Championships This Weekend

Coach Mark Johnson is atop the Illini recordbook for career coaching wins with 103.
Coach Mark Johnson is atop the Illini recordbook for career coaching wins with 103.

March 13, 2001

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The seventh-ranked University of Illinois wrestling team will travel to Iowa City, Iowa, for the 71st annual NCAA Wrestling Championships. The championships will be held March 15-17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Fighting Illini enter this year's championship after compiling a 12-2 dual record and a second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, its highest Big Ten finish since 1958, a span of 42 years. Illinois crowned two Big Ten champions and sent five wrestlers to the finals while qualifying nine wrestlers for this year's NCAA championships. The only weight where Illinois failed to qualify was at 133 pounds. Illinois placed sixth at last year's NCAA championships, its highest NCAA finish for the Illini under head coach Mark Johnson and best placing since 1958. Illinois has had outstanding individual success at the NCAA tournament. The Illini have crowned four national champions and have had 17 All-Americans in the past six years including Adam Tirapelle (149 pounds, 3rd-1999, 149, 2nd-2000), Pat Quirk (197, 8th-2000) and John Lockhart (Hwt, 7th-2000). The Illini's highest finish team finish was second on two occasions, 1931 and 1938.

Quick Shots:
Adam Tirapelle, seeded third at 149 pounds, became the Illini's career leader in pins with his 32nd career fall coming against Mark Trinitapoli of Wisconsin at the Big Ten Championships. Tirapelle also recorded three victories at the Big Ten Championships and with his third win, a 6-3 decision over Mike Kulczycki of Michigan, became the Illini's career wins leader. He now has 122 career victories, surpassing the previous best posted by Ernest Benion who recorded 121 wins and Steve Marianetti with 120.

The Illinois lineup features six senior starters who will be vying for their last shots at national titles. The seniors are Ryan Escobar (125 pounds), Mike Castillo (141), Adam Tirapelle (149), Ben King (174), Nate Patrick (184) and Pat Quirk (197).

Nate Patrick, one of the Illini seniors, may be back next season. Patrick tore his ACL prior to the 1997-98 season and has only been in the starting lineup for two complete seasons. He completed his redshirt season during the 1996-97 season and will seek a medical redshirt year from the NCAA. He won his first Big Ten title this season after finishing second at 184 pounds last year, injury defaulting in the finals.

The seventh-ranked University of Illinois wrestling team finished in second place at the 2001 Big Ten Wrestling Championships in Evanston, Ill., to claim its highest conference finish since the 1958 season earning head coach Mark Johnson Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. Two Illini individuals won titles, Nate Patrick at 184 pounds and Pat Quirk at 197 pounds, a feat that had not been accomplished since that same 1958 season.

The Big Ten championship is an NCAA qualifying event with the top seven wrestlers in each weight class along with two wildcard entrants advancing to the NCAA championships in Iowa City, Iowa, on March 15-17. The Illini qualified nine wrestlers, second to Minnesota's 10, with only Kelly Madden at 133 pounds not finishing in the top seven. Michigan State's Nik Fekete at 197 pounds and Indiana's Greg Schaefer at 125 were the wildcard selections. Defending NCAA champion Iowa qualified eight wrestlers.

Ryan Escobar finished fourth for Illinois at 125 pounds, Griff Powell third at 157, Ben King fifth at 174 and Adam Tirapelle, Matt Lackey and John Lockhart each finished second. One of the most exciting matches of the afternoon belonged to Mike Castillo at 141 pounds. Wrestling for seventh place and for qualification into the NCAA tournament, Castillo, trailing by one point with time winding down, secured a takedown as time expired and earned a trip to the NCAA Championships.

The Fighting Illini are ranked seventh in the final InterMat NCAA Division I wrestling rankings. Nine Illini individuals are also ranked, they are: Ryan Escobar, 13th (125), Mike Castillo, 19th (141), Adam Tirapelle, 3rd (149), Griff Powell, 15th (157), Matt Lackey, 5th (165), Ben King, 20th (174), Nate Patrick, 2nd (184), Pat Quirk, 9th (197) and John Lockhart, 3rd (Heavyweight).

Tirapelle pinned Mark Trinitapoli of Wisconsin in 33 seconds in his opening-round match of the Big Ten Championships to claim his 32nd career fall, moving past Keith Healy's mark of 31 pins to take sole possession of the top spot. The win also moved Tirapelle into a tie with Illini assistant coach Steve Marianetti for second on the school's career wins mark. He then beat Nate Wachter of Penn State 11-3 to move into a tie with Ernest Benion atop the chart with 121 career wins, then defeated Mike Kulczycki of Michigan 6-3 to take sole possession with career win No. 122.

In addition to Tirapelle, several other Illini are climbing the career wins and pins charts. Pat Quirk has also cracked the top 10 in career wins. He has 26 wins this season giving him 103 for his career which ranks eighth all-time and Nate Patrick, with his team-leading 31 wins this season, has amassed 94 career victories, just four behind 2000 141-pound national champion Carl Perry.

The Illini's success on the mat this season has moved head coach Mark Johnson atop the Illini recordbook for career coaching wins. Johnson moved past B.R. Patterson with a 32-3 win over Penn State, moving Johnson's record to 101-25-1 in under nine complete seasons. Patterson ammased a record of 100-113-12 from 1951-68, a span of 18 years. Johnson's current record is 103-26-1.

Head coach Mark Johnson is in his ninth season as head coach of the Fighting Illini, with a record of 104-26-1 (.798) at Illinois. Was named the 2001 Big Ten Coach of the Year following the Illini's second-place finish at this year's Big Ten Championship.

Has a career record of 124-31-3 (.794) in 11 years

Became the Illini all-time career leader in coaching victories with a 32-3 win over Penn State. He surpassed B.R. Patterson's total of 100 wins. It took Patterson 18 seasons to accumulate 100 wins while Johnson did it in less than nine years.

1977 Michigan graduate and two-time All-American at 177 pounds

1980 U.S. Olympic team member

1995 NCAA Division I Coach of the Year

Has coached four national champions (Ernest Benion, Steve Marianetti, Eric Siebert and Carl Perry), seven NCAA finalists, 19 All-Americans and 62 Big Ten placewinners at Illinois.