Steller makes his mark in wrestling massacre

By Tim Murphy

A shorthanded Wheaton squad was no match for wrestling’s stellar subs.

Buoyed by a pair of clutch performances, the Maroons crushed the Thunder in their final home dual meet of the season Tuesday. In their largest margin of victory of the season, Chicago won by forfeit in 3 of their 10 matches and dropped only one contested match. The visiting Thunder (1–4), missing four of their top wrestlers due to injury, never stood a chance against the Maroons (3–4).

Chicago received strong efforts from fourth-year 157-pounder Danny Steller and second-year 184-pounder Cameron Soran. With the usual starter, first-year Spencer Burns, sidelined due to illness, Steller filled in and easily won his match against second-year Patrick Krage 15-5.

“It was nice to see a senior go out with a win in his last home meet,” head coach Leo Kocher said.

“I didn’t wrestle with as much precision as I would have liked, but that’s why I still go to practice every day,” Steller said. “But overall I felt great about the match. I used moves that I haven’t used since high school and it felt good to score some points for the team.”

Soran, starting in place of injured third-year Ben Barnes, cruised to a 9–1 victory over second-year Taylor Ames. Barnes, who was enjoying a breakout season for the Maroons, will be out for the rest of the season with a broken wrist. Barnes sustained the injury in last Thursday’s dual meet against North Central.

The Maroons scored two victories in the upper weight classes. First-year heavyweight Tom Nero edged classmate Chase Campbell 6–5 in a come-from-behind effort. With the match tied and 12 seconds left on the clock, Nero got the quick pin to ice the match. Third-year Drew Marriott received less of a scare in the 197-pound weight class, winning 15–5.

Third-year 174-pounder Phil Kruzel and first-year 149-pounder Jeff Harman also won their matches for the Maroons. Kruzel easily handled first-year Danny Houck 14–6, while Harman held on for a 6–4 decision over second-year Rob Jacobson.

The Maroons benefited from three forfeits as the Thunder’s personnel problems prevented them from fielding competitors in the 125-, 141-, and 165-pound weight classes.

In the lone blemish of the meet for Chicago, second-year 133-pounder Brandon Tillman dropped a 7–4 decision to second-year Cody Nord. The loss dropped Tillman’s individual bout record on the season to 2–6.

After a brutal regular-season slate marked by showdowns against nationally-ranked teams and other top squads from the region, Kocher believes that his team is finally rounding into form. Already this season, the Maroons have competed in the prestigious Midlands tournament that featured a number of Division I powerhouses. The schedule also included a mid-December contest against a top-25 Division I Northwestern team in Evanston in which the Maroons lost by a respectable margin of 32–12. In the same meet, Chicago beat Division II force Indianapolis 31–11. With the team’s recent success, the Maroons look to be peaking at the right time.

“I have a tendency to always have high expectations,” Kocher said. “We’ve had some ups and downs. The most important thing is how you finish up the season. We have the UAAs coming up, and we’re hosting the NCAA national regional qualifier. In the individual sports, it’s the end of the season that you’re pointing to.”

The next test for the Maroons awaits Friday and Saturday at the 17-team North Central Invitational in Naperville. A strong showing at the tournament, which features four nationally-ranked teams, would be a tremendous confidence boost for a young team that is just beginning to realize its potential.

“We practice hard and improve every day,” Steller said. “Our coaches push us and we push each other in practice. This is a tough tournament with a lot of seasoned wrestlers.”