Bishof, Nero lead scuffling wrestlers at Wheaton Invite

By Ben Jervis

After their five-year reign as UAA champs came to an end last weekend, wrestling was looking to stay focused and jump right back into tough tourney action. While they made some important strides, the team couldn’t help being swallowed up in a tough field.

The Maroons (3–7) scored 30.5 points to tie for 17th place out of 30 at the Wheaton Invite Friday and Saturday. Eighth-seeded third-year 165-pounder Mike Bishof and unseeded first-year heavyweight Tom Nero were the only Maroons to place, both coming in eighth in their weight classes.

Bishof, who went 3–3 at the event, dropped a close 5–3 decision to seventh-seeded Case Western third-year Mike Sanchez in the seventh-place bout. He qualified for the bout following a decisive 9–3 win over Rose-Hulman first-year Tyler Goble.

“I feel I got a pretty good start in my Friday matches,” Bishof said. “I was slower on Saturday, though.”

Nero, who started off the Invite with a disappointing 8–5 loss to seventh-seeded Case second-year Bob Gavlak, quickly rebounded to wallop his next three opponents, winning two bouts by major decision and pinning Ohio Northern third-year Eric Lee. Nero eventually fell to eighth-seeded Lakeland third-year Mark Vanden Hoogen 11–7 for the eighth-place finish.

Perhaps his most momentous victory was a 11–3 thrashing of UW–Whitewater second-year Derik Johnson, who had edged Nero in his collegiate debut 4–3 when the two teams met in dual meet action three months ago.

“I’m pleased with how far Tom has come,” head coach Leo Kocher said.

Chicago did not get as solid performances from its top two star wrestlers, third-years 174-pounder Phil Kruzel, who was seeded seventh at the invite, and 141-pounder Andrew Bribriesco, who was seeded third. Kruzel went 2–2 on the day, while Bribriesco was forfeited by the coaching staff after going 2–1. The 141-pounder has been forced to go steady since coming off of a concussion that kept him out of action for the first couple meets of the season.

“I sure wish Andrew was healthy,” Kocher said.

Despite their less successful showing, Kruzel and Bribriesco entered the tourney riding on superb seasons. They were the only other seeded Maroons at an Invite that saw Division II and top-ranked Division III teams compete.

Truman State University, ranked 17th in Division II, won the event with 134.5 total points. The 10th-ranked Division II squad from UW–Parkside tied for second with Division III’s fifth-ranked UW–LaCrosse and 12th-ranked Heidelberg with 128 points apiece. UAA rival Case Western finished 15th with 31 points.

“This tourney was the toughest it’s been in a while,” Kocher said. “The seeds told us that.”

Painful overtime losses also continued to plague the Maroons. Third-year 197-poudner Drew Marriott, who fell 5–3 in the extra period to UAA champ Case third-year Thomas Sanders, mirrored Nero in recovering to win three bouts in a row. Marriott then dropped a 9–5 decision to Warhawks second-year Karl Voeck, the eventual fifth-place finisher.

First-year 125-pounder Ben Hart fell 9–7 in the extra period to Indianapolis first-year Jimmy Nichols, while classmate Jeff Harman suffered a 3–1 OT loss to Concordia first-year Joe Massman.

“I think the team did better than the viewing the stats would indicate,” Bishof said. “We really had a lot of guys wrestle close matches against some of the toughest wrestlers.”

The Maroons’ three overtime losses reflected an unfortunate pattern for the team of late. At last week’s UAA Championship, both Kruzel and Bribriesco lost sudden-death OT bouts that helped tip the scale of the match, resulting in a 29–6 win by opponent NYU. In mid-December, two overtime losses by Kruzel and Bishof decided a dual-meet match in favor of Olivet College.

“When you lose the overtime matches, it’s kind of disappointing,” Kocher said. “Things probably would have turned out better had we had a healthy Bribriesco.”

Wheaton was the last regular season meet for the high-spirited wrestling squad, who prepare to host the Great Lakes Regional tournament in two weeks. There, the best of the best will wrestle to determine who moves on to the NCAA Championships in Ewing, New Jersey March 3–4. Second-ranked Augsberg College, which saw all of its wrestlers qualify at last year, is expected to field another talented dominant squad.

At last year’s Regionals, Sean Barnes (A.B. ’05) won the heavyweight title to qualify for the NCAAs, where he went 1–2 to finish one win short of All-American status. Despite their tough weekends, Kruzel and Bribriesco are still the Maroons most likely to match Barnes’ feat. They will be hoping. that like a number of Chicago wrestlers in the past, they will be able to build on what they learned from the challenges of Wheaton against the best of the Midwest.

“Wheaton helps us get ready for the big matches at the end of the season,” Kocher said. “This is a do-or-die meet.”