Despite a fiery showing by the wrestling team this past Saturday in New York City, a repeat UAA Championship was not in the cards for the Maroons.
Even with an early 33–12 victory over Case Western, Chicago had the ultimate glory stolen by the home team, as 15th-ranked NYU seized the title in a series of the toughest matches of the year. In the end, the Maroons fell to the Violets with a score of 22–12.
With all teams weighing in 12 wrestlers, Chicago did not make their lineup dependent on any one competitor. Victory would mean relying on the team’s characteristic depth, something it has done well all season. The tournament was structured as a series of dual meets, with one of the three teams being eliminated before the finals. The Chicago men headed in knowing that their two opponents would be among the best they have faced all season.
“A dual meet only has 10 matches, so we were able to switch four individuals in and out of the lineup,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “This gave the team more rest and made for a stronger effort against NYU.”
A diverse mixture of newcomers and veterans carried the Case match-up and brought a conference win within the squad’s reach. Leading the charge against the opposition were second-year Troy Carlson (165) and third-year Justin Lucas (184/197). Both wrestlers maintained undefeated records over the course of the day, keeping their team rallied despite the strength of their opponents.
“We wrestled the right people in the right spots,” Kocher said.
Rookie talent was especially noticeable, with four first-years wrestling on the roster, and two of them pulling through with wins in both matches. David Kneisel (174) wrestled in both the Case and NYU matches, narrowly losing to his older and more experienced opponents. Providing Chicago with a huge upset at 149, Chris Oster wrestled to one of the four wins against NYU. Continuing to make a name for himself in the heavyweights, Ryan Hatten beat his NYU opponent in a close set of rounds. Taking home the grand prize of UAA Rookie of the Year, Hatten again showed that he’s earned his spot as the replacement for currently injured third-year Tom Nero.
Opening the contest on Saturday morning, the Case match-up was expected to be a close one. With three of their starters not in the lineup, the Spartans had no chance of holding back the Chicago offensive. Representative of the Maroon performance were the wins of third-years Ben Hart and Lucas. Hart destroyed his third-year opponent, Jonathan Howell, in a 16–1 major decision. Repeating this performance, Lucas crushed first-year Ray Lonardo with another 16–0 major. Third-year Jimmy Dooley sealed the Case match, pinning first-year Evan Malone only one minute into their opening round. Replicating the Maroon victory, NYU defeated Case to send them packing with the bronze.
With the field clear, Chicago faced down NYU in a match-up of the defending champion of 2007 against the hosts who wanted to retake their gold of 2006.
A 22–12 score fails to honor the closeness of the championship match. The Violets quickly robbed Chicago of its momentum by grabbing a number of early wins. Third-years Zach Matayoshi (125) and Spencer Burns (157), alongside first-year Matt Hart (141), had extremely close losses in the lower- and middle-weight classes. Two points were all that stood between Matayoshi and a win against second-year Kyle Christiansen, and one point was the margin by which Hart lost to fourth-year Thomas Masciale. In one of the narrowest rounds of the tournament, Burns lost by a mere two points in overtime to 10th-ranked fourth-year team captain Takafumi Hashimoto.
“When all was said and done, it turned out we would have needed at least two of these in order to have won the meet,” Kocher said.
Recapturing the lagging meet were Oster and Carlson. Despite having only recently recovered from an injury, Oster pulled off a decisive win against first-year Matt Magill, taking the match 6–1. Carlson upheld his unstoppable reputation, beating third-year Patrick Knight in a nail-biting 5–4 bout. With the overall score hanging at 13–6 for the Violets, victory was potentially in Chicago’s hands. They had certainly pulled out of tighter spots earlier in the season, but this would prove to be different.
Furiously clawing out of reach, NYU and its middleweights crushed all hope of the Maroons repeating their 2007 win. Kneisel began his match against third-year Naum Shuminov without difficulty, but quickly found himself in a bad position. Exploiting the momentary opening, Shuminov swooped in to pin Kneisel in the second round. With the score slipping away at 19–6, third-year Lance Contento was unable to turn the meet around. Losing 6–0 to fourth-year team captain Nick Coleman, Contento ended his bout with the score 22-6 in NYU’s favor.
“This NYU team could very well get three or four members of their team to the NCAA championship,” Kocher said. “They deserve their national ranking.”
In a last stab of defiance, Lucas and Hatten claimed the last two matches of the meet, but it was too late to prevent a Violet victory. Lucas edged out a 6–2 win against third-year Alex Chianurashvili, personally finishing up the tournament undefeated. Hatten was one of the real winners of the UAAs. The first-year pulled a 6–3 win against fourth-year team captain James Layman. His performance not only netted him the UAA Rookie of the Year distinction, but earned him a place of honor alongside teammates Carlson and Lucas on the All-UAA Team.
NCAA Championships are all that remains this season and wrestling is making sure to ready itself for the February 23 regional qualifiers in Minnesota. Expected to perform well are Carlson and Lucas, both of whom have consistently proven themselves over the quarter. No matter how they do there, the Maroons have closed the book on its dual meet season with a record of 6–5 against one of the hardest schedules in recent memory. Only losing to nationally ranked teams, with many of their victories also against such powerhouses, the Maroons are not graduating any wrestlers this spring. This bodes well for 2009.
“Each of our wrestlers is just going to try and have a very good day at Qualifiers,” Kocher said. “I want to see us finish strong and pointing to next year.”