Battling to the wire at Ratner Wednesday, wrestling triumphed over Wheaton in the opening match of its season.
With a final score of 22–18, the competition showed that Chicago is back and stronger than ever. The team dominated last year, snatching the 2007 UAA Championship title. This year, they look to continue their legacy as a wrestling powerhouse. Having lost a number of their top competitors to graduation, including All-American Phil Kruzel, the Maroons have brought in new talent as replacements. This year will be determined by the ability of these first- and second-years to fill in the large shoes left from last March.
“The team is pretty young,” head coach Leo Kocher commented. “We don’t have any experience to look back on together, but the team’s got a lot of talent.”
Having trained for six weeks so far, the team is pumped and ready to go. Returnees have quickly gotten back into the swing of things, and the younger members are absorbing all the techniques they will need for the season ahead.
“It’s a different team, but a good team,” Kocher said. “This meet will be the first feedback we get, because there is a lot you can learn in competition that you can’t in practices.”
The Wheaton meet was forecasted to be a tough one from the beginning. Chicago crushed the Thunder 25–12 last November, but it was a victory clinched with the help of the veteran fourth-years. With only two fourth-years on a roster of 27, this time choosing the meet’s lineup was a real challenge.
“We lost a lot of good people last year. The guys will have to step in and do their job. Our old guys are a year better, and our new ones are on the right track,” Kocher said.
Kocher fielded eight of his veterans alongside two of his best first-years, David Kneisel (174) and Matt Hart (141). Among his eight elites were second-year Troy Carlson (165) and third-years Zach Matayoshi (125) and Tom Nero (285). Carlson looks to capture another UAA Champion title after moving up a weight class from last season. Matayoshi, out with an elbow injury last year, promises to provide the team with a strong competitor in the lower weight classes, while Nero holds down Chicago on the opposite end of the spectrum. Together, the three almost ensure victories in the beginning, middle, and end of any competition.
After Chicago split a pair of exhibition matches, Matayoshi opened up the official meet, greatly outclassing his first-year opponent Ben Allen in the first period. After shooting in for two takedowns against only one Wheaton escape, Matayoshi’s 4–1 lead in the middle of the first period looked to be something that would seal the match. Then, with 1:07 left, Matayoshi twisted his shoulder. The referee awarded the default win to Wheaton, immediately creating a 0–6 gap that Chicago would fight for the entire meet.
“This put us in a big hole,” Kocher said. “We did not get the win we expected, and they picked up a badly needed three bonus points.”
The injury negated the points gained by third-year Ben Hart (133), who won his match by default with no opponent in his weight class. With the score now 6–6 and the defaults out of the way, the meet effectively began. First-year Matt Hart lost to his experienced opponent, fourth-year Brent Skorup, in a harrowing three periods. Grabbing Chicago’s first legitimate win, third-year Jeff Harman (149) battled to a narrow victory over fourth-year Rob Jacobson. An early takedown by Harman almost resulted in a match-ending pin. The Wheaton wrestler narrowly avoided the pin, yet couldn’t prevent Harman from eventually seizing the round to tie the match up 9–9.
The next match had second-year Nick Bartley (157) battling Thunder fourth-year Eugene Savenok. The early advantage was to Bartley, who circled into a quick takedown for an early advantage. However, Savenok turned the tables, escaping and countering with his own takedown to tie the match at 3–3 before slowly overcoming Bartley for a 6–13 win.
With Chicago down 9–12 midway through the meet, Carlson stepped into the ring against first-year Justin Marble. Launching an aggressive offense, Carlson ended the first period 8–4 with a series of lightning takedowns. Carlson continued his blitz, countering a failed shot by Marble, to set the score at 11–4. The Thunder wrestler scored one more point off an escape, but he couldn’t keep up with the superior Carlson, who grappled for an additional takedown to bring the final score to 14–5.
Looking to regain its lead at the 174 weight class, Wheaton pitted second-year Justin Tomal against Chicago’s Kneisel. All hope of an early victory for the Thunder was destroyed, however, when Kneisel saw an opening and brought Tomal to the mat. Tomal escaped in the first period,and went onto escape yet again in the second, tying the score 2–2. Kneisel cleverly elected to start the third period on bottom and rapidly escaped to a 3–2 lead. The talented first-year held the line until the end, pulling off a huge upset win for Chicago.
“It is tough for a freshman to come through with a much needed win the opening dual of the year. David delivered,” said Kocher.
The advantage gained by Carlson and Kneisel was quickly shattered as Wheaton eked out two narrow wins. Despite his best efforts, third-year Justin Lucas (184) barely lost to fourth-year Toby Boltz with a score of 2–3. In an extremely technical match, Lucas lost only because his opponent was able to escape twice at the beginning of each period. Chicago took another hit as third-year Jimmy Dooley (184) wrestled up a weight class against first-year Matthew Griffiths (197). In a match similar to Lucas’s, neither wrestler was able to gain a decisive advantage. Dooley fell in overtime, with Griffiths seeking out an opening and going for the takedown.
On the rocks 16–18 and in the final match of the night, the Maroons’ Tom Nero found himself the last line of defense against a Wheaton victory. Facing third-year Chase Campbell in the heavyweights, it was clear from the beginning that Nero would be the winner. The experienced wrestler outclassed, outweighed, and out-muscled his opponent throughout the short match. Nero and Campbell exchanged takedowns and escapes for a minute, until Nero tied up with the Wheaton wrestler and saw his chance. Mightily bringing Campbell to the mat, Nero broke down his opponent’s attempt to resist the pin. The referee scrambled around the mat to verify the pin and blew his whistle, ending the match 22–18 in Chicago’s favor.
“Going into the matchup, we knew it would be a hard one. We didn’t have a lot of room for error, but our team really delivered,” said Kocher.