Wrestling holds own against best of the Midwest

By Ben Jervis

Heading into break four weeks ago, wrestling was looking to stand firm in the face of a number of tough Division I and II opponents. When it was all over, they didn’t look at all like your average Division III school.

The Maroons split two dual meets at Northwestern on December 15, beating Indianapolis 31–11 and falling to Northwestern 32–12. The team was also beaten by Olivet 26–12 Wednesday and won their home opener against Wabash College 24–18 November 30. Chicago wrestlers finished 48th in the Midlands Tournament on the Northwestern campus December 29 and 30.

It was the team’s action at Northwestern, though, that proved the overwhelming highlight of December. Facing some of the best wrestlers in the NCAA, Chicago’s underdog team surpassed all expectations by holding their own against the Wildcats, and handily beating 19th-ranked Indianapolis.

“I thought our team battled tough at NU,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “Against Indianapolis, we seemed to win all of the close ones.”

A key to the Maroons’ success at Northwestern was the continued dominance of third-year 184-pounder Ben Barnes, who won both of his matches at the meet. Barnes defeated Wildcats fourth-year Joseph Gulotta 10–6 and Greyhounds first-year Chris Owens 16–0 by technical fall. His impressive performance at NU along with his overall achievements this season earned him his first-ever UAA Athlete of the Week award.

Barnes won all of his dual meet matches over the four-week break and now leads the team with nine wins against four losses this season.

“I would have to say that the success that the whole team and I have experienced this year is due to our coaching staff,” Barnes said.

Third-year 174-pounder Phil Kruzel also posted a win against Northwestern, beating Wildcats first-year Mark Graves 7–4.

More recently, the Maroons lost to 11th-ranked Olivet (10–0–1) 26–13 Wednesday. While they were defeated in 7 of 10 matches, the meet could well have gone either way. Three of the Maroons’ losses were by razor-thin margins. First-year 157-pounder Spencer Burns was holding a 7–2 lead late in his match but was pinned at the last minute by Comets fourth-year Ken Andrews. Kruzel and third-years 165-pounder Mike Bishof also established late leads, but they were forced into overtime, as their opponents were able to establish a one-minute riding time advantage in the closing seconds to tie the match. Kruzel and Bishof both succumbed to their Olivet opponents in overtime. Had Burns avoided the pin, a victory in either of their bouts would have given Chicago the win.

“The Olivet dual was a lesson in how things can turn on a dime,” Kocher said.

The Maroons’ three wins were posted by Barnes, who pinned Comets fourth-year Ryan Newberry for a win in the 184-pound class, and classmate Andrew Bribriesco at 141 and first-year Ben Hart at 125, who each won by decision.

The Maroons scuffled at the highly competitive Midlands tourney, hosted by Northwestern on December 29th and 30th. Facing over 40 top-ranked schools in the country, all but two Chicago wrestlers lost both of their matches. Not surprisingly, Barnes was one of the two to record a win, a 1–0 decision, along with third-year 197-pounder Drew Marriott, who notched a 6–4 decision. Both finished 1–2 for the weekend.

“We go to learn how to compete at the highest level and raise our expectations,” Kocher said. “I think we made progress towards those goals.”

Chicago had opened up its home season on a positive note by defeating Wabash. Barnes, Bishof, Bribriesco, and Kruzel each notched wins at the meet.

The Maroons, who now stand at 2–3 in dual meet action, will continue their tough schedule next week, when they head to the Cornell Invite. Five nationally ranked teams are expected to participate at the event.

“In a way, this is all a prelude to the UAA Championship, the NCAA qualifier, and nationals,” Kocher said. “But we have to convince ourselves now what we are capable of.”