The University of Chicago's wrestling team capped off its season Saturday by taking fifth place at the Great Lakes Regional, hosted by Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Third-year Nick Kehagias qualified for the NCAA Division III national championship, while a total of five Maroons placed in the top six of their weight classes.
"We wrestled tough, close matches in a region that was very tough this year," said head coach Leo Kocher. "The region included Augsburg [College], which has won six out of 10 of the last Division III NCAA championships."
Chicago finished fifth out of 16 teams with a team score of 52 points. Five of the team's wrestlers--fourth-year Nate Lukanich, third-years Kehagias, Dale Burke, and Ryan Hlinak, and second-year Sean Burke--were seeded entering the weekend's competition.
In the 125-pound weight class, Kehagias took second place after losing the final match by an 8-5 decision. Kehagias dropped the match to Augsburg's Greg Brendemuehl, who is ranked fifth nationally in Division III. As the fourth second-place wrestler to be selected for an at-large bid to the tournament, Kocher said, "The coaches thought it was pretty clear that he was one of the better wrestlers and deserved to go to the championships."
Burke captured sixth place in the 133-pound class, losing the fifth-place title match by a one-point decision. Having lost to the tournament's number two seed in the championship quarterfinal round, Burke posted wins in the consolation second and quarterfinal rounds.
At 157 pounds, Lukanich finished in fourth place. Having previously won two overtime matches in the competition, he lost in the championship semifinal round. Posting another decision to advance to the third-place title match, Lukanich lost in a 2-1 overtime decision to Rick Lamas from Elmhurst College.
After losing to the eventual champion in the championship semifinal round, Hlinak placed fourth in the 165-pound weight class. Hlinak won the consolation semifinals in an 11-3 major decision and advanced to the third-place title match. He lost the match by one point, losing 13-12 to third-place seed Sean Hoover of host Augustana College.
Barnes notched sixth place in the 197-pound weight class after losing in the fifth-place title match by forfeit. In the championship quarterfinals, Barnes won the match by pinning the number two seed of the tournament. "It was a close, tight weight class, and he had a strong performance," Kocher said.
However, injuries again weighed in on the Maroons. Fourth-year Andy Bugajski and third-year heavyweight Tim Daly were noticeably absent from the lineup on Saturday. Daly has not wrestled since January due to injury. Bugajski suffered a season-ending injury at the Wheaton Invite on February 7-8. "One of the wrestlers to qualify in Andy's weight class he's pinned [earlier in the season]. As a returning national qualifier who won two matches last year [at nationals] it's too bad he didn't get a chance," Kocher said.
"We were a very competitive team this year. It's a much stronger region because of the Minnesota conference moving into the region." This is the first season that the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has participated in the Great Lakes region. Kocher continued, "Our people all wrestled tough, they all showed up and gave their best effort."
"This year we are saying goodbye to three good fourth-years. Nate and Andy displayed great leadership. This was the first year Carlos [Alvarado] has been with us, but he stepped in and earned a starting spot," Kocher said.
Bugajski and Lukanich were UAA individual champions in their respective weight classes this year. Additionally, both were four-year starters in the Maroons' lineup, and posted winning records every year. Bugajski qualified for the national championships last year, losing before the All-American round. As Kocher stated, "Andy's a consistent performer--a winner since he stepped on campus."
"He's been wrestling very well. He has a very good record as far as who he's beat and even who he's lost to," Kocher said. As for Kehagias's trip to the tournament in several weeks, Kocher commented, "I think [Kehagias's] couple of November losses prevented him from being seeded [at the tournament]. I think Nick is a very real threat as an unseeded wrestler to place at nationals."
The NCAA Division III championships will take place on March 7 and 8, hosted by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.