‘Roons pin next year’s hopes on past season’s success

By Annie Aydinian

The 2001-2002 season proved to be another great showing for the University’s wrestling talent. The Maroons boasted a final 11-2 dual-meet record, capped the conference season with their second consecutive UAA championship title, finished second at the NCAA regional tournament, and witnessed third-year Andy Bugajski’s advance to the national championships on a wild card bid.

Chicago showed promise of the season to come early on, as the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) awarded the Maroons a preseason ranking of 14th nationally. The Maroons proved worthy of the ranking, notching their first win against Olivet College on November 14 before cleanly dispatching Wheaton College, 46—18, two weeks later.

The team ended autumn quarter against stiff competition at the Upper Iowa Open and the Midlands Championships. Despite finishing 44th of 61 in the Midlands, the tournament format emphasized individual performances and provided the Maroons with valuable experience against the competition they would face in the regional competition.

The bulk of the season took place after the winter break, as the squad spent a busy January preparing for the UAA Championships, which Chicago hosted on January 26. The Maroons placed fourth at the Augustana College tournament and swept their three dual-meet matches to carry a 5-1 record into the UAAs. This effort was rewarded with a season-high ranking of fifth nationally by the NWCA.

At the UAA meet, Chicago retained its conference title against Case Western Reserve University and New York University, raising the Maroons’ UAA title count to eight. Five Maroons also earned individual titles, including third-years Bugajski and Bill Kopecky, and second-years Nick Kehagias, Dale Burke, and Tim Daly. First-year Sean Barnes was named UAA Rookie of the Year, and Bugajski earned UAA Most Outstanding Wrestler honors.

An 11th place finish at Wheaton College’s tournament, a dual-meet loss to Wartburg College, and another mark in the win column against North Central College marked time between the UAAs and what turned out to be an excellent performance at the NCAA regionals for Chicago.

The Maroons took a second-place finish at the Great Lakes Regional on February 23 as all of the team’s wrestlers finished in the top ten of their respective weight classes. Fourth-year J.R. Moore, Bugajski, and Burke captured second place in the 141-pound, 149-pound, and 133-pound weight classes, respectively. Kopecky garnerd third place at 184 pounds, while Kehagias took third at 125. Bugajski’s finish attracted notice from coaches at the competition, who awarded the Chicago wrestler with one of the tournament’s four national championship wild card bids.

The First Union Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was the site for the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on March 1. A national crown, however, was not to be, as Bugajski dropped his first match to Zak Kallai of Case Western Reserve University 7-1. Having moved to the consolation round after the loss to the fifth-ranked Kallai, Bugajski proceeded to win two matches before being eliminated from the third-place competition in a 4-2 decision to Andy Vogel of Messiah College.

The honors did not end with the close of the season. In early April, Moore and Daly earned Academic All-American honors for their blend of brawn and brain. The wrestlers needed a minimum 3.2 grade point average, sixth place finish in the regional qualifiers, and .500 win percentage. Later in May, the Order of the C gave the MVP award to Kehagias after he finished the season with his second UAA title at 125 pounds.

Given the team’s excellent performance over the season, Coach Leo Kocher was fittingly named Man of the Year by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association. The award complimented the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year honors Kocher and his staff won at the UAA Championships earlier in the season.

Next year should see another strong season for the Maroons. The past several years of recruiting have built a strong and relatively young squad. Only losing two fourth-years to graduation, the majority of the team will be second and third years.