Today wraps up my fourth year of writing from the Big Ten wrestling tournament. I am not sure I have witnessed better wrestling than what I witnessed on Sunday. The fans were treated to some outstanding head-to-head matchups, some outstanding individual performances and a great team race that went down to the wire.
This year was the first year in 20 years where two brothers won Big Ten titles. Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (133 pounds) and Hunter Stieber (141) are currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in their respective weight classes. The last brothers to win Big Ten titles were Tom and Terry Brands, who accomplished the feat for Iowa in 1991 and ’92.
Penn State won their third consecutive team title this weekend. The team race was very tight until the tournament hit the 165-pound weight class. Penn State has four wrestlers in a row that no team in America can match. All four won individual titles this year, and their dominance from 165 to 197 is unprecedented. David Taylor at 165, Matt Brown at 174, Ed Ruth at 184 and Quentin Wright at 197 have been termed “Murderer’s Row” by wrestling fans and will play a big part in the Nittany Lions’ quest to win their third consecutive NCAA title in two weeks.
One of the best parts of the tournament for me was to see some of Illinois’ former All-Americans and NCAA champions in attendance hand out awards. It is a tradition in wrestling for accomplished wrestlers to hand out awards to the athletes that place at the tournament. As a coach in this area for 15 years, I was fortunate enough to be around and watch all of the wrestlers that handed out the awards today. They were all great wrestlers and made a positive impact on the Illini program. I mentioned some of the guys yesterday but also in attendance were Steve Marianetti, Mike Poeta and John Dergo. Perhaps the biggest celebrity was former Illini coach Mark Johnson. Johnson coached all of the athletes that took part in the awards ceremony and appeared to enjoy his ex-wrestlers a great deal.
The local wrestling community was also well-represented this weekend. It was great to see so many important faces from recent Champaign-Urbana wrestling history in attendance. I spotted former coaches Marty Williams and Jim Risley from Mahomet. I also saw former Urbana coach Wayne Mammen in attendance. Tom Porter, who is a former Illini, Mahomet and Champaign Middle School coach, was also watching. These four men have made a tremendous impact on wrestling and had many of their athletes wrestle at the Assembly Hall over the years.