In the midst of women's soccer madness, and the start of college basketball, another Chicago athletic powerhouse is quietly building success. Over the last few weeks, the wrestling team has competed at a very high level and has already met with considerable success. Led by an impressive group of fourth-year wrestlers, Chicago is off to a 2-1 start in which several grapplers have put themselves in prime shape to have both outstanding individual seasons as well as lead the Maroons to impressive team results.
In the team's November 19 match-up against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the Maroons were tied at 16 after all official matches had ended. Because of a complicated system of tiebreakers, however, Chicago was handed the loss.
Despite the setback, head coach Leo Kocher put an optimistic spin on the result. He pointed out that Whitewater, at the time of the match, was ranked 30th in the nation. In addition, many of the top wrestlers on the team had "off-nights" that did not indicate the true talents of the team.
Sure enough, the Maroons came back on Friday night with a 37-10 win over Concordia University in Wisconsin.
The team's standout this year is fourth-year Nick Kehagias, returning All-American, and talented enough to make an individual impact at the national level.
Kehagias, however, is not alone, as the team also features fourth-years Tim Daly and Sean Barnes, who prior to the start of the Concordia meet were both 2-0 individually.
According to Kocher the team is "top to bottom, real strong" and is developing the kind of depth that will come in to play more often as the wrestlers gain experience.
"In our first two dual meets, we've won a match at every weight class but one," Kocher said.
Although team depth is important to Kocher, also significant are his ability to balance the team and the versatility that defines his wrestlers.
"We can move wrestlers around in order to maximize a win," he said. "We moved four guys up for the UAA championship meet [last year]."
According to Kocher the national invitational tournaments that the Maroons will compete in should give the team a "sense of where we are nationally." In particular, the January 10 Whitehill National Duals Meet will be a telling one for the team. As Kocher described it, "there will be a 32-man bracket in every weight class, with a total of over 300 wrestlers competing.
Another significant test for the top athletes on the team will come December 29 at the Midlands tournament, where "teams from the Division I Big Twelve, and Big Ten conferences will compete, as well as Lehigh and the other wrestling powers." At that meet, Kocher plans to include wrestlers who will benefit from facing Division I competition.
Among those wrestlers will certainly be Kehagias, whose past success has certainly earned him the trip. Allowing his best wrestlers to face the best wrestlers in the country is a strategy Kocher is quite fond of.
"Nick made All-American last year with nine losses, and the only reason is that he had tough matches under his belt."
With the ambitious scheduling and the tough opponents that the team will face this year, the best members of the team will once again get a chance to square off against the top talent in the country.