Wrestling loses last home meet after successful road tournament

By Annie Aydinian

After a successful weekend of tournament competition in Naperville, the Maroons lost their home meet Wednesday night to visiting North Central College, 20-27. The previous Friday and Saturday the Chicago squad had taken second place at the North Central Invite. The Maroons have also moved up in the college national rankings, from 30th to 25th in Division III.

The dual meet against North Central was a close one and not one without its challenges. Three members of the starting lineup were out: third-year heavyweight Tim Daly was out with an ankle injury, and third-year Dale Burke and fourth-year Andy Bugajski were sidelined due to illness.

The Maroons managed to pull off wins in five weight classes–third-year Nick Kehagias at 125 pounds, fourth-year Nate Lukanich at 157, third-year Ryan Hlinak at 165, second-year Dimitry Shuster at 184, and second-year Sean Barnes at 197.

Head wrestling coach Leo Kocher said, “We were in a position where the rest of the lineup had to win six out of seven matches and we didn’t get it done.”

The loss of starters forced Kocher to shuffle the lineup resulting in some wrestlers having to compete in higher weight classes. Referencing a lack of depth at several of the weight classes, Kocher said, “Putting at 119 pounds against a 141-pound wrestler in the last match, the odds were very strong against him. We didn’t have people to replace those out of the lineup.”

The North Central Invite featured 20 teams, three of which were ranked in the top 30 teams of Division III, including Chicago. Thirteen Maroon wrestlers in all participated in the tournament.

“The team wrestled exceptionally well,” said Kocher. Eight Chicago wrestlers reached the final round of place matches for first, third, and fifth places–seven Maroon grapplers won their matches.

“It was our strongest performance. We finished ahead of ranked Manchester College and they ended up ranking us 25th,” Kocher said.

“Virtually all of the wrestlers outperformed their seeds,” said Kocher. Lukanich was seeded fifth in the 157-pound weight class and finished first. His effort earned him UAA Athlete of the Week honors for the first time in his career at Chicago.

Other notable finishes were second-year Alan Lazzara, another entry at 157, who was not seeded and finished third, and third-year Dale Burke at 133 pounds, who was also not seeded and finished fifth.

Kehagias also finished first in the 125-pound weight class. Bugajski and Hlinak took third at 149 and 165 pounds respectively, and first-year Sam Kunkel finished fifth at 133 pounds.

Burke placed second in the 197-pound bracket, losing his final match to a returning NCAA qualifier.

Looking ahead to the next half of the season, the team’s first important date is Febuary 1, the UAA Championships hosted by New York University. “We want to win UAAs,” Kocher continued, “We want to be wrestling well by the national qualifier and get people to the NCAA championship.”

The next upcoming competition for the Maroons is a dual meet against Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana on January 29.