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May 25, 2007

All-Maroon Best Stories

Kruzel: King of the Mat

With the team set back by injuries from day one, it looked like it would be a slow year for wrestling. But as the squad took its lumps throughout the season, fourth-year captain Phil Kruzel managed to stay on top of his game and his opponents in a banner year.

Dropping down to 165, the formerly light 174 grappler used his quick feet and in match after match to compile a staggering 29–3 record in the regular season. He maintained his edge into the postseason, earning a wildcard bid into NCAAs, where he fought back from the consolation bracket to become All-American with an eighth-place finish. Kruzel’s final year marked the end of a successful transition from irregular starter to one of the division’s top wrestlers.

Men’s soccer gets a fresh look

This season would have been an easy one to write off as a rebuilding year for men’s soccer. Former head coach John O’Connor had departed for University of Rhode Island after leading the team into the second round of NCAAs in 2005, and the departure of a strong senior class left holes all over the field going into the fall season.

But the squad clearly had no intentions of putting off its return trip to the tourney. Following the new leadership of Scott Wiercinski, Chicago did some reshuffling on the pitching, moving third-year Eric Kirkenmeier to holding midfielder and Cartwright to central defense. The changes paid off, and the team posted a 10–5–4 record en route to its second consecutive NCAA appearance. The squad lost in the opening round to St. Norbet 4–3 in penalty kicks, but is in prime position to take its postseason play one step further with nine starters and Wiercinksi set to return for next year.

Women’s hoops on top of the nation

It started with a 76–58 win over Kalamazoo at Ratner on November 18 and ended with a 75–66 home loss to NYU on January 26. Between those two matchups, women’s basketball mounted a 16-game winning streak to kick off its season, relying on a combination of proven veterans and rookie sparks as it rose in the national rankings with each victory.

The stretch of perfect play landed the Maroons as the number-one team in DIII for the first time in the program’s 36-year history. Three nights before the showdown with the Violets, the weekly USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll voted Chicago the best of the best and D3hoops.com listed the squad as fourth in its Top 25 survey.

Softball digs the long ball

In making its playoff push last year, softball showed that it could get by with defense and lights-out pitching. The squad went 20–15 while coming up with just 2.9 runs per game with a .321 slugging percentage and a .311 on-base percentage. This spring, the Maroons turned into an offensive powerhouse, boosting their hitting statistics across the board but most noticeably in RBIs (184), runs (5.9 per game), and homeruns (25).

A lot of this spring’s surge came from rookies like Kathleen Duffy, who led Chicago with 7 dingers, and Lauren White, who knocked 20 RBIs for the second-highest mark on the team. Proven sluggers like third-year leadoff hitter Vanessa Pineros certainly did their part at the plate, but many returning players found their strokes and caught the hitting fever as well to give the Maroons a loaded lineup.

Swimming on the rise at UAAs

Competing in the toughest league in DIII, Chicago swimming has long struggled to improve on its UAA rankings. This year, both the men’s and women’s squads merged under new head coach Jason Weber and turned in program-best efforts at conferences to gain a little headway in league divided by sharks and bottom dwellers.

On the men’s side, 12 shattered school records at UAAs propelled the squad to fifth, while the women followed the lead of first-year phenom Cassie O’Neill to sink Case and Brandeis. Indications of a breakthrough season came early on as the men opened the season undefeated in dual meets and the less deep women kept pace with their counterparts for most of the winter.

Seniors lead men’s basketball to NCAAs

After a 70–59 loss to Wash U at Ratner on January 6, it looked like men’s basketball had run out of luck. The undersized team had put together a strong 9–2 start in non-conference play, but injuries to its two primary big men spelled doom for UAA matchups.

Instead of caving, though, the Maroons rose to the challenge, taking their cues from the five seniors. Jesse Meyer (.433 3FG%) and Brandon Woodhead (15.5 ppg) set the tone on the floor, while Drew Adams, Jason Vismantas, and Derek Brannon stepped up in their first real opportunities to play regularly. The class of 2007 finished their careers at Chicago with a share in the UAA title and their first trip to NCAAs.

Tennis ropes in more rookie talent

Most first-years let their freshman year go by, watching matches from the bench to try and get a sense of college competition before playing a bigger role next season. Newcomers for both tennis squads didn’t get that adjustment period, but instead jumped into high-profile starting positions and never looked back. While the rookies added valuable depth and helped set up formidable tandems for both squads, a few of them stood out above the rest.

On the women’s side, Marissa Lin took over first singles from All-American second-year Vindya Dayananda, went 9–5 there, and earned a bid for the NCAA Singles Championship. For the men, doubles partners Noah Schneider and Garrett Brinker led the team with a 14–3 mark together and went 12–2 at second doubles. Individually they gave a boost to the middle of the lineup, with Schneider posting a 13–6 record and Brinker going 12–8.

Wade’s record run

In her second year as softball’s ace, fourth-year Petra Wade needed 15 more wins to become Chicago’s winningest pitcher. With this year’s offense to boost her run support and added pitching depth to help preserve her arm, cracking win number 50 seemed a sure thing.

A complete game effort against UW-Oshkosh (36–11) in her final start of the regular season locked up Wade’s spot at the top of the record. First-year Kathleen Duffy set the Maroons on top 2–1 with a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth, and Wade and the defense followed to shut down the Titans after a leadoff double.