January 15, 2008

Wrestling fights its way back

In a full team effort, the wrestling team lived up to its reputation as a head-to-head competitor, holding its own against stacked competition that included ranked foes on the schedule.

Heading into the North Central College Wrestling Invitational, the Maroons found themselves with an even record in dual meets but a second-to-last finish in their only previous tournament competition. However, the Maroons put up 10 top-eight finishes across eight weight classes to climb into sixth place in a 16-team event and match their seeding for the weekend.

“We were only supposed to place four [in the top six], and we ended up placing seven,” Kocher said.

In a weekend chock-full of individual accomplishments, third-year Ben Hart stood a cut above the crowd. He led the way for the squad with a third-place finish in the 133-pound weight class, winning four of his five contests. His only setback came at the hands of the NCAA DIII’s top 133-pounder, North Central fourth-year Adam Johnson. Dropped to the consolation bracket, the Wood Dale, IL native powered through his next two opponents to take home the bronze.

Along with Hart, six other South Siders garnered a spot in the top six. Third-year Justin Lucas and first-year Ryan Hatten added fourth-place finishes in the 184-pound and heavyweight weight classes, respectively. Third-year heavyweight Tom Nero captured fifth place, while third-year Zach Matayoshi, second-year Troy Carlson, and first-year David Kneisel closed out Chicago’s scoring with sixth-place finishes.

Given the stacked competition at the tournament, which saw two ranked teams battle for top honors, the Maroons will settle for their draw. D-III 12th-ranked North Central won their home tourney with a score of 126.5, grazing 26th-ranked Elmhurst by 13.5 points.

The next four slots in the rankings were separated by slim margins, with Chicago ending the weekend with 57 points and only a 12.5-point away from fourth place. With the small spread in the final standings, a small change in the lineup that designated different scorers could have vaulted the Maroons up a couple of spots.

“I just didn’t anticipate who would perform,” Kocher said. “We’ve got pretty reasonable depth. That kind of depth shows we’re a pretty strong dual-meet team.”

With six weeks left before regional competition, Kocher and the Maroons are looking for the right combination of competitors for the postseason and for bringing their success in duals to tournaments.

“We’re not done improving by a long shot…. We’re going to pick up as much ground as we can,” Kocher said.

The Maroons are also seeking to defend their league title and to garner their sixth UAA championship in seven years. With only two other teams in the conference, there’s always a close fight for the crown as Chicago looks to ward off Case and NYU.

“NYU is performing very well,” Kocher said. “NYU is the team to beat.”

Before the South Siders pack their bags for the Big Apple, they’ll have to wrap up non-conference play starting with a trip west for the Elmhurst Invitational Saturday.