It’s time to reload for the Maroons, who have lost a talented core of fourth-years that led them to their sixth UAA Championship in seven years last season. Hampered by injuries, Chicago struggled midseason against some nationally-ranked opponents but gelled in time to take a 20–17 victory over NYU to clinch the conference title.
Of all the off-season losses, none has made a bigger hit to the roster than All-American Phil Kruzel (A.B. ’07), who earned an individual UAA Championship en route to an eighth-place finish at the Division III National Championship.
Opening the season with third-years filling 6 of the 10 starting slots, the Maroons will have considerable experience on their side. Chicago also returns third-year Jeff Harmon, who missed last season with back problems but was a consistent contributor in his rookie season.
The second string could be a factor as well: The Maroons’ depth in the upper and middle weight classes provides some strong practice partners who will push the team to improve and could take over the reins if injuries sideline some starters.
This season will test the Maroons early and often as they try to navigate a schedule that includes some of the toughest teams in country, like 10th-ranked Olivet and 11th-ranked Cornell (IA). Looking ahead to Chicago’s defense of its UAA crown, NYU begins the year ranked 30th, and both Case and NYU have individual wrestlers ranked nationally.
Such stiff competition will be especially tough for the weight classes where the Maroons’ bench is not as deep.
“Our lower weight classes are still a little thin,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “We’re just an injury away from a problem there.”
WHO TO WATCH: TROY CARLSON & BEN HART
Now a second-year, Carlson took the UAA Championship in the 157-pound weight class and UAA Rookie of the Year honors, and finished sixth at NCAA regionals in his inaugural campaign. This time around, Carlson will move up a weight class and may be better off for it.
“I think it will be good for him,” Kocher said. “He’s added some muscle weight, and he has improved.”
At regionals last season, Hart finished sixth in the 133-pound weight class. Without any fourth-years on the team, the burden will be on Hart and his fellow third-years to lead the squad to the sort of success that it is accustomed to.