The early afternoon sunlight streamed in through the glass walls of the Ratner Center where the Maroon wrestlers, normally relegated to the dark confines of the Henry Crown Field House, were competing for yet another UAA championship. Around the mat, a boisterous crowd swelled to more than twice its normal size. On the sidelines, Chicago head coach Leo Kocher paced with his usual dogged intensity, except today he was snappily outfitted in a jacket and tie.
"For photo-ops," he said.
Everyone was looking his best Saturday, as the Maroons captured their fourth consecutive UAA title.
Chicago beat a shaky NYU squad with ease, 38-8, in its first match of the day. Case Western, which had triumphed over NYU 34-15, proved a more formidable opponent, but they too fell to Chicago, losing 24-14.
Chicago had history and a better dual meet record (8-4 as compared to 7-6) on its side when it faced Case Western and the expectant jumped burst to their feet when All-American fourth-year Nick Kehagias started matters off with a pin.
The fans had been cheering throughout the NYU match. Girls held up signs that read, "We love wrestlers," and "We want a pin," while several generations of family members eagerly snapped pictures of their favorite Maroons. Yet after Chicago pulled well ahead of Case Western 15-3, and the meet pushed past its second hour, there was some understandable slackening in the crowd's enthusiasm.
It took an epic triple-overtime match from two literal heavyweight wrestlers to wake them up.
Strange, because the match between Chicago's Tim Daly and Case Western's Ray Rowe was, compared to the other matches at least, relatively slow moving. Turns out that was exactly the way Chicago fourth-year wanted it.
"He was real quick. Not a lot of heavyweights are that quick. I just took my time, kept the match at my pace," said Daly. "He kept trying to come after me real hard. You just do what you have to do, slow him down, and win it in the end."
Heading into Daly's contest, the overall score was 18-14, meaning Case Western could have taken the championship if they swept the last two matches.
Daly was taking no chances. As Rowe established the more aggressive approach in the opening period, Daly assumed a defensive stance and even backpedaled out of bounds four times in the initial three minutes. In the second period, Rowe chose bottom position and managed an escape. That represented the lone point from either wrestler when Daly chose bottom to start off the third period. Without too much difficulty he escaped to tie the score.
It was then that the crowd re-emerged. The noise level increased, and the signs were thrust back into the air. "We want a pin," now seemed especially apt, though a mere takedown would have sufficed. But despite an increased sense of urgency from both wrestlers, no further points came and the match went into its first overtime.
Again, Rowe went on the attack. This time his fatigue was beginning to show, and his moves consisted mostly of slaps to the face, which angered the crowd but affected Daly little.
Then, from amidst the disorganization, Rowe surprised Daly with a well executed shot. Daly realized he had only one option, but it was a move he had pulled off many times earlier in the match: maneuver the entanglement out of bounds. To the crowd's delight he did just that, and time expired soon thereafter.
While the first overtime in wrestling is sudden death, the second and third overtimes are like a regulation period, except they are 30 seconds instead of minutes long. Once the first overtime ends with the score still tied, a third overtime is guaranteed so that each wrestler has an opportunity to start the period from the bottom position.
Daly managed a major coup when began the second overtime on top and did not allow Rowe to escape. Lacking confidence that he could do the same, Rowe let Daly escape to begin the third overtime and took his chances shooting for a takedown. The seconds quickly slipped away. In a desperation move, Rowe lunged after Daly, who neatly stepped aside and took Rowe down to secure a personal as well as team victory.
The crowd roared its approval. Barring a Case Western pin in the last match in addition to Chicago unsportsmanlike penalty, the Maroons were champions once again.
It took more than Daly and Kehagias, of course, to beat Case Western. The successful efforts of third-year Ai Nguyen, first-year Andrew Bribriesco, second-year Anthony Bribriesco, and first-year Phil Kruzel were all equally indispensable.
Andrew Bribriesco's win by pin was an especially satisfying reversal of fortune for him. Earlier he himself was pinned by NYU's Eugene Kobilanski.
"I felt totally good about myself, coming back from a bad loss like that and getting a pin,"said Bribriesco, adding, "It feels good being a freshman and winning my first UAA. Hopefully I can get three more."
To round off the happy afternoon, Nguyen, Kehagias, Anthony Bribriesco, Daly, and Dimitry Shuster (who won his match against NYU) were named to the All-Association Team.
And in perhaps the least surprising move of the day, UAA coaching staff of the year honors were bestowed upon Kocher and his team of assistants Joe Bochenski, Ron Oglesby, and Anuj Maniar.