Five wrestlers place, but none advance at regionals

By Ben Jervis

With a rollercoaster season at its end, wrestling was hoping to send its annual qualifiers to nationals. Unfortunately, in the face of the most fiercely competitive tourney field ever, they couldn’t get it done.

Facing off against the division’s toughest grapplers, the Maroons placed five at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Saturday at Ratner. Chicago scored 61 total points for a sixth-place finish in team standings, coming behind five nationally ranked squads. No Maroons advanced to nationals, the first time in six years that this meet has marked a total end of the season.

The highly competitive regionals featured 14 squads, five of which entered the day nationally ranked. Second-ranked Augsburg and 12th-ranked Elmhurst stole the show. The Auggies scored 162 points and placed six champions, while the Bluejays scored 134.5 and placed three champions. These two squads left little room for others.

“Elmhurst was really challenging Augsburg for the title, and North Central was tougher than heck,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “Our schedule has really gotten tougher.”

While Chicago grapplers didn’t dominate, a number of them still managed solid wins. Third-year 165-pounder Mike Bishof (27–17) went 5—–2 for third place, the best Chicago performance. The fifth-seeded Bishof dealt a 9–4 decision to fourth-seed Concordia fourth-year Lee Rahrlien in the third-place bout. Vying for second, he fell to Augustana senior Brian Daly 11–1, who locked up his third trip to NCAAs.

In similar fashion, first-year 125-pounder Ben Hart (17–17) beat two wrestlers seeded ahead of him on his way to fourth place. The eighth seed started his day with a 10–1 loss to the top-seeded eventual champion, Elmhurst first-year Tom Gagan. He immediately bounced back in the consolation rounds with a pair of wins, but Hart’s season ended with a 9-–6 loss to third-seeded Augustana fourth-year Leo Byrd in the third-place bout.

Eighth-seeded first-year heavyweight Tom Nero (14–21) posted a 3–3 record to finish sixth. The highlight of his day was a 4:47 pin in the wrestleback quarterfinals over fourth-seeded St. John’s second-year Jason Finley.

“It shows he’s come a long way,” said Kocher, reflecting on Nero’s performance. “You’d have to say that Nero and Hart are the two most improved freshmen.”

Fourth-seeded third-year Phil Kruzel (22–14) appeared to be having a successful day in the 174-pound class, as he made it all the way to the championship quarterfinals. With two wins under his belt, Kruzel was set to make the semis if he could avenge a North Central Invite loss to top-seeded Elmhurst fourth-year Josh Rupprecht. Unfortunately, history repeated itself, as he fell to Rupprecht 6–0 and finished in fifth.

His classmate Andrew Bribriesco (20–12) went 3–3 for an eventual sixth-place finish. The seventh-seeded Bribriesco beat sixth-seeded North Central first-year Jason Fitzenreider 3–1 before falling 6–2 to fourth-seeded Concordia (WI) fourth-year Kevin Koch.

The last member of the third-year quartet, eighth-seeded 197-pounder Drew Marriott, lost a close 3–2 decision to fifth-seeded Elmhurst fourth-year Nick Metcalf after walloping unseeded Augustana third-year John Parkhurst 10–0. Metcalf finished fourth.

“All our juniors are showing an ability to wrestle at a high level,” Kocher said.

While they didn’t end up placing, a few other Maroons had notable bouts. Second-year 133-pounder Brandon Tillman (9–20) was knocked out of the championship rounds by top-seeded Augsburg second-year Jafari Vanier, the eventual bracket winner. In the consolation quarterfinals, Tillman had a 7–3 lead over fifth-seeded Wheaton second-year Brent Skorup when Skorup headlocked him for a pin at 5:00.

“Almost all the wrestlers performed better than it looked on paper,” Kocher said. “There was no bout a wrestler was ‘supposed’ to win.”

The Regionals capped off a below-average season for the Maroons. Chicago recorded a 3–7 dual meet mark and notched top-five team finishes at only two regional tourneys. They were dethroned as UAA Champions after a five-year run with the crown.

On the other hand, the Maroons faced the most difficult schedule in recent memory. The vast majority of opponents were ranked in the Division III top 20.

“Our dual meet schedule has evolved to one where the majority of our opponents are nationally competitive,” Kocher said.

With their year complete, the Maroons will have all of their regular starters back next season and will focus their efforts on working hard to come back better than ever.

“There’s no doubt in the guys’ minds that we can turn the tables next year,” Kocher said. “We intend to make it.”