Opening meet jitters? A late start to the season? Three graduated fourth-years? No problem. Chicago's wrestlers made an important early statement Wednesday night, upending the ever-tough Olivet College 29-15 at the Henry Crown Field House.
The 1-0 Maroons came up with an unprecedented three pins, two of them coming in the final two matches of the meet. With Chicago clinging to a narrow 17-15 lead after eight matches and Olivet on a roll, third-year Sean Barnes defiantly erased a 3-0 deficit after catching opponent Charlie Walker off-balance. The 197-pound Barnes then forced Walker's shoulder to the mat after a difficult struggle, earning six points for his team and clinching another opening day victory for veteran head coach Leo Kocher.
"[Barnes] totally took the pressure off our heavyweight," Kocher said.
The heavyweight in question, 285-pound fourth-year Tim Daly pulled off a comeback similar to Barnes' during the meet's tenth and final match. Trailing 2-0 after the first of three periods, Daly's opponent elected to begin the second frame from a controlled position in the hope of earning a quick escape and a 3-0 lead. But Daly foiled his plans when a failed escape attempt gave Daly a chance to go for the pin after flipping his struggling opponent
"Daly is tough on top," Kocher said of the 2002 UAA individual heavyweight champion.
The Maroon wrestlers have been Chicago's most consistent success, winning the UAA championships for the last three seasons and earning nine conference championships in the past 15 years. After beating a team that last year's squad lost to, Kocher's crew looks dominant once more.
"I'm interested in getting us into the national rankings," a fired-up Kocher said after the meet.
Chicago was most dominant in the smaller weight classes, winning the first three matches to stake an early 11-0 advantage.
A large part of the team's early success was due to the efforts of fourth-year Nick Kehagias. Kehagias, who last year became the Maroons' first All-American since 2001, led-off the meet against opponent Sean Parker. Parker held his own early on, but was unable to muster any kind of takedown move. The 125-pound Kehagias scored points in every period, and was able to earn a four-point 12-4 decision.
Third-year Chicago native Ai Nguyen followed with another clutch victory, earning a takedown late in the third period before hanging on for a 7-5 decision.
Following them, first-year Andrew Bribriesco came back from an early takedown to blow out opponent Enrique Garcia 17-8.
Chicago's first pin of the day came from third-year Ryan Hlinak in the team's fifth match. After exchanging takedowns with opponent Ken Andrews, Hlinak got the leverage he needed and forced Andrews' shoulder to the mat as the Maroon bench exploded in roars of approval.
"It was a really good match against a really good team." Kocher said. "Our veterans really came through."
Chicago's only low points of the day were losses from two of the team's three freshmen. Tied at 3-3 in the final period of the fourth match, first year Jason Besse and his opponent, Joel Rozeboom, struggled to earn the deciding point.
Besse escaped from Rozeboom's grasp and then countered with a quick takedown of his own to go up 6-3. But Besse's inexperience allowed the quick-thinking Rozeboom to engineer a rolling reversal that lead to a last-minute 8-6 heartbreaker.
Two matches later first-year Anthony Bribriesco seemed on the verge of winning after taking an 8-2 lead going into the third period. Unfortunately, his opponent earned an escape and quickly flipped Bribriesco on his shoulder as time wound down. According to Kocher, Bribriesco's fatal mistake was trying to go for his opponent's upper body at an inopportune time.
"[Bribriesco] made one mistake, and it'll never happen again," Kocher said. "He's going to win a lot of matches for us in the future."
Chicago will travel next Wednesday to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, home to one of the region's toughest teams.