Epic heavyweight finish as wrestling rallies for upset

By Kate Fratar

Breaking free of its earlier losses, wrestling reclaimed its momentum this week despite fierce opposition from a host of nationally ranked contenders.

Depth was the squad’s theme, as Chicago relied on its well balanced team to carry the day in its last two meets. Starting on Saturday with the Elmhurst “Al Hanke” Invitational, Chicago finished 4th of 12 in a field that included nationally ranked Olivet and Elmhurst Colleges, 17th and 25th, respectively. With their weekend victories fresh in mind, Wednesday saw the Maroons facing off against invitational winner Olivet. Team balance secured them a narrow 21–19 victory over the Comets. Now standing at 3–2 in dual meets, the team is looking stronger than ever.

“We have been emphasizing that every single team member can contribute to our team,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “We try to be clear that it is not about yourself—it is about what you can do for your teammates.”

Having suffered defeat once on Elmhurst’s home turf, the Maroons were looking for a turnabout on Saturday. Despite ultimately finishing behind Olivet, Concordia, and the hosts, they certainly achieved it. Finals saw Chicago represented in 6 of the 10 weight classes, with many Maroon wrestlers making it to the semifinals or higher. Dominating his opponents throughout the early rounds, first-year Matt Hart entered the final round against Elmhurst first-year Ben Salabura in the 133-pound weight class. This was the second time the two had wrestled, and despite a mighty effort by Hart, top-seeded Salabura managed to pull off a win and take the gold.

Hart’s finish was followed by first-years Mason May and Chris Oster making the final cut in the 141- and 149-weight classes. Out of commission for the last few meets with injuries, Oster’s debut in college wrestling was a strong one. May performed similarly, placing for the first time in a tournament as both of the athletes scored for Chicago with sixth-place finishes.

With no wrestlers qualifying at 157, the Maroons quickly compensated with four strong finishes in the next three weight classes. Second-year Troy Carlson continued his divisional dominance to secure a third-place finish at 165, losing in the semifinals to the eventual winner of the weight class, Marathana Baptist third-year Ben Hoover, the sixth-ranked wrestler at his weight in the nation.

One class up at 174 pounds, Chicago secured its tournament standing as two of their wrestlers finished in the top three. First-year David Kneisel and third-year Lance Contento finished second and third, respectively. After Kneisel was edged out in a 4–2 loss in the finals, Contento followed with a crushing pin against Olivet fourth-year Dayne Fletke. Chicago’s scoring streak closed strong at 184 pounds as third-year Justin Lucas took fourth place, losing 8–6 in the consolation round as the Maroons returned home with a well deserved fouth-place finish.

“This was one of our better performances this year. If we can keep this lineup on the mat, I think we will be competitive with some very good teams,” Kocher said.

Riding a wave of victory, the team squared off midweek against the weekend’s winner, Olivet, and battled for an extremely close win. Wednesday night opened in stark contrast to how Saturday ended, with three consecutive defeats for Chicago. Third-years Zach Matayoshi and Ben Hart, alongside Matt Hart, fell in the lower weight classes to the Comets.

Leading 9–0, Olivet looked unstoppable going into the 149-pound bout, yet Oster showed some life before the home crowd, demolishing his second-year opponent, Nick Leon. Finishing his match with a score of 12–2, Oster won Chicago a major decision, closing the gap in the score, 4–9. Unluckily, his victory was short-lived, as third-year Spencer Burns fell to Olivet third-year Jason Brew in the 157-pound match. Hanging on for dear life, the Maroons found themselves down a whopping 15–4. Without a turn of fortune, the meet was lost.

Finding this fortune just in time, Chicago struck back at the Comets as Carlson crushed third-year Greg Jarret 14–5, and Contento beat first-year Joe McAllister 12–8. The pressure back on Olivet, Lucas continued the Maroon attack, dominating third-year Aaron Stewart 12–2. With veterans Carlson and Lucas pulling their team back into the meet, the score tied up at 15–15.

With only two matches remaining, Kneisel stepped onto the mats across from second-year Joe Yurisich. Kneisel, wrestling up two weight classes against an older opponent, couldn’t ward off a relentless offense by Yurisich. Ending the first round down 2–0, Kneisel attempted to fight his way back, but Yurisich kept the pressure high. Despite two quick escapes, Kneisel lost control of the match and the 13–2 final score put Chicago back into a 19–15 hole.

All eyes turned to the heavyweight bout, with first-year Ryan Hatten of Chicago squaring off against second-year Sean Misko. Wrestling in a position normally held by third-year Tom Nero, Hatten has found himself, stepping it up to fill the shoes of the injured vet. The meet was all up to Hatten: even a major decision would only result in a tie; Hatten needed to get a pin. Round one saw Hatten and Misko exchanging hits, neither one able to gain a clear advantage. The score flat at 0–0, tensions ran high entering round two. Starting on the bottom, Hatten found himself unable to escape from Misko. The Olivet wrestler pressed his advantage, gaining more time for the winning team. One minute into the round, Hatten saw an opening in the overextended Misko, quickly reversed his opponent, and slammed his two shoulders to the mat. Hatten held his ground for the countdown as Misko struggled to rise, and as the referee counted down, the crowd rose to its feet. The final count passed, and Hatten stood to roaring shouts as Chicago clinched the upset with a final score of 21–19.

Chicago’s victory places them even closer to the vaunted UAA Championship. Despite the setbacks brought about by injuries this winter, the team looks to capitalize on their immense pool of talent to secure even more wins as the season progresses.

“We have managed to put together a pretty competitive dual meet team,” Kocher said. “The goal is to keep it that way as we face four tough teams this weekend—three of them nationally ranked‑—and 24th ranked NYU at UAA’s next month.”