Opening their season against first-class DI and DIII squads, wrestling proved one thing Sunday: it doesn’t shy away from tough competition.
Competing at the Northwestern duals in Evanston, the Maroons held their own at an event they entered with lowered expectations, posting a 1–2 mark against elite competition. Chicago fell 20–15 to DIII 16th-ranked Cornell College and 34–12 to the host DI sixth-ranked Wildcats before capping the day with a 21–12 victory over NAIA third-ranked Cumberland. In a meet that also featured DI programs Wisconsin and Navy, the Maroons stepped up their efforts to match the level of competition and showed signs of improvement after losing their UAA title last season.
Forced to forfeit the event after a string of injuries in the 141-pound weight class, Chicago faced a six-point deficit in each of the three contests. That deficit turned out to be the difference in the opening match with the Rams. Cornell took an early lead, winning three of the first four matches. In an event that could have gone either way, fourth-year Mike Bishof gave up a pivotal takedown at the end of the second period that ended up being the difference. The Maroons rallied to win the final three matches, including a last second win by fourth-year Drew Marriot, but the squad fell short in the end and fell 20–15.
“In general, the team wrestled well,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “Winning six of nine matches against Cornell—which would have given us the victory—instead of just five was truly in our grasp, but we took on a pretty challenging opening day and our guys competed hard.”
The next match against Northwestern University (NU) proved to be an even stiffer challenge, but Chicago showed early on that it was there for more than just the experience. Demonstrating his squad’s fighting spirit was 184-pound second-year Justin Lucas. Moments before his bout with Wildcat third-year Jake Herbert, it was announced that Herbert was the top-ranked wrestler in the nation in his weight class. Rather than back down, Lucas took a head-first shot at Herbert’s ankle as soon as the whistle blew. It was a far cry from last season’s showing, when Northwestern had sent out its second-string to wrestle Chicago.
With nearly all of their regular starters on the mat Sunday, the Wildcats took control early with a first-period pin of second-year Zach Matayoshi. Second-year Ben Hart lost a major at 133, and Northwestern picked up the forfeit at 141, quickly putting Chicago in a 16–0 hole. Putting the Maroons on the board at last was first-year L.T. Switzer, who shocked the crowd at 149. The Omaha native scored an improbable takedown of second-year Marty Gould, twisting out of a whizzer that seemed destined to end in a stalemate.
Minutes later in another difficult situation, Switzer caught Gould in a bad spot and managed to pin him from the neutral position to earn his second win of the day.
Northwestern squeaked decisions in the next three weight classes, winning the three matches by a total of five points. Lucas was pinned at 184, and Marriot came up short at 197 after wrestling a close match but making a vital mistake near the edge of the mat. Chicago picked up a forfeit in the heavyweight division, leading to a final score of 34–12, Northwestern.
Earning a coveted victory after two difficult losses to start the day, the Maroons finished strong against Cumberland. After Matayoshi was edged out 6–5 at 125, Ben Hart stepped up in the last second of the first period, putting Chicago ahead 6–3. While Switzer was dealt his first loss of the young season at 149, first-year Troy Carlson nabbed his first win, pinning his opponent early in the second period. The veterans ran away with it from there, as fourth-year Phil Kruzel, Bishof, and Lucas swept the next three matches and Chicago walked off with a hard-earned 21–12 decision.
Switzer, Kruzel, and Lucas each ended the day with two wins, while second-year Tom Nero went 1–1 at heavyweight. The Maroons will face off against Wheaton College this Wednesday in Wheaton.
“We wrestle at NU because it is likely to raise our wrestlers’ perception of what their capabilities are, as well as getting clear feedback on what they have to improve,” Kocher said. “I hope every U of C athlete came out of here with heightened expectations.”