Ratner Rats discuss wrestling team’s surprising regional finish and broadcasting: 50-50-50

By Sean Ahmed

What does the sixth-place regional finish mean to the wrestling program?

Sean: Last Saturday’s team results were surprisingly good for a young wrestling squad that has been tested by, and often fallen short to, to competition this season. If you look at the individual wrestlers, there were some disappointments: Third-years Phil Kruzel (fifth at 174 pounds) and Andrew Bribriesco (sixth at 141 pounds) both finished below where we were hoping they would place, but closer inspection shows some impressive performances.

First-year 125-pounder Ben Hart entered seeded eighth and finished fourth, with one of his two losses coming in the first round to the eventual bracket champion. Hart beat the fifth and sixth seeds after that match. Third-year 165-pounder Mike Bishof had the best finish of the day, entering the tournament seeded fifth and ending up the third-place grappler. He didn’t get one of the 11 at-large bids (according to head coach Leo Kocher, he was about 16th on the list after losing the “true” second-place match), but he showed that this wasn’t just a two-star team of Bribriesco and Kruzel.

Joe: Nor will it be next year. First-year heavyweight Tom Nero had a better-than-anticipated finish in his own right, going 3–3 to grab the sixth spot after being seeded eighth. Between the freshman pairing of Nero and Hart and the third-year quartet of Bishof, Bribriesco, Kruzel and Drew Marriott, who faltered against the fifth seed in the 197-pound bracket after entering the weekend seeded eighth, the future looks incredibly bright for this team. And let’s not forget about this season’s missing man, third-year 184-pounder Ben Barnes, who was one of the team’s best in the early going before breaking his hand in a 28–9 loss to North Central back on January 5.

Injuries and decisions not to compete this year by certain members of last year’s squad meant that the Maroons were a heck of a lot younger than they thought they’d be at the end of last year. A sixth-place team finish at one of the toughest regional meets in Division III shows how far this team has come, and they’re not satisfied with how things went. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if given another winter of seasoning, Chicago was right up there with Augsburg and Elmhurst at next year’s Great Lakes tourney.

Sean: Even though Kruzel ended up finishing a little lower than we had hoped, especially after making the semifinals with relative ease, he had some unfortunate luck. After losing to the eventual champion, Kruzel also ended up having to take on the second seed, who had been upset in the semifinals as well. Had that not happened, he probably would have secured a top-three finish.

Still, it’s more important to talk about what Kruzel has accomplished this season. Early in the year, the third-year was both a little unsure of himself and his devotion to the sport after some inconsistent performances and a hand injury led to a disappointing start. Kruzel put things together midseason, however, and he closed a lot of his deficiencies by being more receptive to his coaches’ suggestions, such as staying lower to the ground to make him less vulnerable to takedowns.

The biggest change was in his confidence, however, as right before his regional semifinal match, Kruzel saw me and said, “I get that rematch,” referring to a second shot at Elmhurst’s top-seeded Josh Rupprecht, who narrowly beat him 5–2 at the North Central Invite in January. Even though Kruzel was never able to mount anything offensively, both his excitement beforehand and his disappointment afterward showed that Kruzel is primed to take an even bigger step next season.

Joe: We’ve always been pretty high on Phil, who’s written for Maroon Sports in the past. This season, he showed everyone why we’ve been fans with a number of gutsy performances. Kruzel took down Northwestern’s Mark Graves 7–4 back on December 15, and kept almost every successive match tight for Chicago. We were hoping for him to break through and give the Maroons a representative at nationals for the sixth straight year, but against a tough field it just didn’t happen. Here’s hoping he’ll be able to use his dismay at the early end to his season to make some noise at NCAAs in 2007.

Your first season broadcasting basketball is in the books. What’d you learn?

Sean: Wow, what a fun time. During the soccer season, I only did pre-game, halftime, and post-game because I honestly knew so little then about the game. I also entered the basketball season not knowing much technically about hoops, but it’s amazing how much you can learn from really focusing on the game and giving analysis a shot.

Also, I can’t tell you how key experience and practice is to the play-by-play side. Though I know I can handle baseball announcing with ease—the pace suits me in addition to it being a game that I’ve listened/watched/played for a significant portion of my life—basketball demands a greater pace and description of momentum and macro strategy moreso than the tiny details. Omar did an excellent job there with his (at times incomprehensible) auctioneer style and great sense of humor.

Omar: It’s been great fun and, echoing Sean, a learning experience from a technical perspective. One thing that is better than in the soccer season is the fact that we are in the stadium with the crowd, so you can feel and convey the emotion far better.

Joe: Not having participated in the soccer broadcasts, this was all new to me. Having spent a good part of the last two and a half years writing about Chicago athletics, I presumed that talking about it on the air wouldn’t be that different an experience. Not the best judgment call I’ve ever made. I found the pace and energy of these broadcasts, the adrenaline of trying to shout down a packed gym after a highlight play, and the pure enjoyment of being able to inform and entertain a ready and willing audience to be alternately terrifying and thrilling. Like Sean, I’m far more baseball/football than I am basketball, so as much as anything I find myself learning an immense amount about the sport itself in a hurry.

But more than anything about basketball itself, I think I gained new understanding of just how tough it is to be an athlete. Regular listeners to our broadcasts can certainly attest to the fact that I had enormous trouble characterizing what was happening on the court fast enough to allow the play-by-play announcers to keep the audience abreast of the game action. Forget actual insightful, technical analysis – simply breaking down the moves that a player made on a drive to the basket was hard enough to pack into the time I had. If I’m having that much trouble describing what an athlete’s decision was and why they made it, what must it be like for them to make those decisions on the floor? That sort of split-second timing was far, far beyond me, and it’s something that all sports fans and writers should keep in mind. There’s a reason we’re on the sidelines. That being said, I’m not sure that new understanding of the challenges of sports really made it into my commentary. Sorry, Jason.

Sean: And, honestly, the ability to convey our fandom of our school’s great athletes (many of whom are our friends) to parents, alumni, and students is pretty rewarding. Plenty of treats came our way.

Omar: We have big plans for next quarter as we try to take the commentary to the softball and baseball. I have to say that

we’ve been lucky because we have only commentated on winning teams so far. Long may that continue.