Even as the squad struggled with injuries, wrestling has kept its eyes on the prize all season. While the dual meets down the stretch hold some importance to the Maroons, their impact on the season’s mark can’t compare to the emphasis put on the league championship and the postseason tournament.
With NYU and Case coming into town tomorrow for the big UAA showdown, Chicago will get its first chance at payoff for a long year of work.
“We schedule very, very tough opponents,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “We might not end up with as good a record, but we’ll be ready by the time UAAs roll around.”
A big part of being ready to take on league foes this weekend will be the Maroons’ opportunity to hit the mat with a healthy roster. Team leaders like fourth-years Phil Kruzel and Mike Bishof have been running on all cylinders recently and will be joined by long-time injured classmates Ben Barnes and Andrew Bribriesco. First-year Zach Matayoshi, who has missed most of the season with an elbow injury, should be back in action as well and ready to make an impact at 125.
The South Siders are going to need all of these wrestlers in top form if they’re going to avoid embarrassment on their home turf. After winning the league for four straight years, Chicago was stunned last year when it took third. Both the Spartans and the Violets have strong squads, and Kocher has been known to juggle the lineup at UAAs to give his team desirable matchups.
Against Case, the Maroons will depend on Matayoshi to notch a big win against an opponent who is 0–17 on the season, with all but one of his matches ending with a fall. While Matayoshi added a minor finger sprain to a still healing elbow last weekend, he could give the squad a major boost if he comes up with a pin.
With second-year Ben Hart taking on fourth-year Spartan Dave Manooigan and his 18–6 record, 133 should be one of the close matches in the meet. Things should stay tight down the lineup against Case as Bribriesco at 141 will need to use his full ability to shoot and score from all positions against competition that has studied him over past years. The Maroons face a possible hole at 149 with third-year Brandon Tillman, who will weigh in at the class but may be ineligible to wrestle.
At 157, first-year Troy Carlson will have a chance to make up for the squad’s lost points as he tries to continue his recent string of solid performances against fourth-year Russ Tischer. One of the Spartans’ strongest wrestlers, but in need of a rebound after a disappointing tournament last weekend, Tischer could fall easily into Carlson’s fluid style and ability to score most of his points on top.
A key spot in the lineup will be fifth-ranked and recently named UAA Athlete of the Week Kruzel, who will probably have a rematch fourth-year Mike Sanchez. The two squared off at last weekend’s tournament, where Kruzel finished second and Sanchez didn’t place.
“It feels good to get these honors, but we are focused on this tournament right now,” Kruzel said.
Rounding out the rest of the lineup, Chicago will probably weigh in both Barnes and second-year Justin Lucas at 184. Either wrestler could get the start, and it will be a crucial match against an average Case wrestler. Fourth-year Drew Marriot will have a challenge in front of him against Case’s 28–3 Tom Sanders. Depending on the team score at this point, he may be looking just to keep the match close. Case’s heavyweight is about .500, but one of his wins was a shocker over second-year Tom Nero. Still, even despite an injured collarbone, Nero should be considered the favorite going into this match.
Despite winning UAAs last year, NYU appears, at least on paper, to be the more beatable team. NYU has a very young lineup with only two returning fourth-years. One of those veterans, Gene Kobilansky at 149, could cause problems for the Maroons, though. Chicago will probably try to maneuver itself so that Kobilansky takes a forfeit. Otherwise, he would probably bump to 157 to wrestle Carlson. With the Violets expecting the move, the South Siders’ ability to manipulate this matchup may come down to the pre-match coin flip.
In the contest with NYU, there will be heavy pressure on Matayoshi and Hart once again to put Chicago ahead early against very thin lower-weight classes. Bribriesco will also be in a must-win match against a less experienced wrestler, and Kruzel will be looking for the pin against first-year Sean Connors.
The close calls will come down on matchps at 174 and 184. Bishof has excelled at the UAAs in the past, and a repeat of his successes would go a long way. If Marriot and Nero wrestle to their ability, the Maroons should feel secure if they come to the last two weight classes with a lead. If the meet comes down to the last match, Chicago’s coaching staff is very confident with Nero’s ability to handle the pressure even with the injury. The heavyweight proved that he can come through in the clutch, securing a much-need pin in his match against the Cardinals last week.
For Chicago’s core of outgoing fourth-years, this weekend will be the most important regular-season tournament. In recent years, UAA matches have been decided by single bouts, and this year’s tournament promises to be just as exciting. The squad will have all five of its seniors in the starting lineup, and they are all aware of the importance of this weekend.
“On Saturday, the rest of the season won’t matter,” second-year Jack Toussiant said. “We know what we’ve got to do; we’ve got to win.”