SPORTS

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February 10, 2009

With five champs, Chicago regains UAA title

When the wrestling team showed up at Saturday’s UAA Championships at Case, they couldn’t wait to meet last year’s conference champs, NYU.

And after the draw pitted the Maroons head-to-head with the Violets in the day’s first contest, the team knew it wouldn’t have to wait long to take back the title.

Strong performances in the upper weight classes sent Chicago to a 21–13 win over NYU, and the South Siders sealed their 13th all-time conference championship with a 37–10 victory over Case later in the day.

Heading into the day, the Maroons thought that their match with NYU would probably determine the conference champion and that the team that won the close matches would probably take the title. At the end of the day, they were right on both counts.

The Violets opened the 125-pound match with one of their strongest wrestlers, two-time reigning UAA champion Kyle Christensen, and Christensen stepped up for his squad again this year, posting a major decision win to put NYU up 4–0.

The Maroons looked to fourth-year Ben Hart to bounce back at 133, and the veteran came through in overtime for Chicago’s first win.

Neither team was able to string together consecutive victories through the first six weight classes, and the South Siders stayed within reach of the reigning conference champions by winning the close matches.

“I think there was a pretty strong focus on getting the job done against NYU,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “Everyone stepped out on the mat thinking that they could make a difference in defeating NYU.”

Second-year Matt Hart snuck out a 3–2 victory at 149 pounds, and first-year Chris Canty erased a second-period deficit with a pin at 4:17 in the 165-pound match.

Canty’s win signaled a shift in the tide, as Chicago went on to win three of the final four matches and, including the six points that came with Canty’s pin, outscored NYU 15–3 over the last five matches.

“I personally was not worried with the close match going into the upper weights,” second-year Ryan Hatten said. “Our upper weights have performed well in other duals, and I expected the same to happen against NYU…. Once we got to the upper weights, it was clear that we had to win in order to take the title.”

Wrestling again after a few weeks’ rest, third-year Troy Carlson picked up three points for Chicago in the 174-pound match. En route to his second conference title, NYU’s Naum Shuminov ended Chicago’s hot streak with a victory at 184 pounds, but fourth-year Justin Lucas and Hatten responded with wins in the 197-pound and heavyweight divisions, respectively.

With the victory over NYU in the books, the Maroons could sense the return of the UAA championship.

Chicago jumped ahead of Case before the next match started, as the Spartans had to forfeit in the 125-pound and heavyweight divisions. In the first actual match, Ben Hart took just 1:12 to score a pin at 133 pounds, earning the veteran his first individual UAA championship.

Case, however, has found most of its strength in the middle weight classes all season, and three straight wins at 141, 149, and 157 pounds inched the Spartans to within two points at 12–10. Last year’s UAA Most Outstanding Wrestler Drew Gardella led the way for his squad with a technical fall at 149 pounds, earning the fourth-year a second consecutive conference championship.

From there, it was all Maroons. Fourth-year Jack Toussaint started a string of five straight wins in the second half of the card, winning his first conference title with a major decision at 165 pounds.

Carlson, meanwhile, saw his stiffest UAA competition yet in the form of Case’s B.J. Greenman. A two-time UAA champion, Carlson was stretched to overtime but ultimately captured his third straight title with an 11–9 victory in overtime.

First-year Stephen Hanzlik and Lucas posted consecutive pins at 184 and 197 pounds, and Hatten took the heavyweight match by forfeit. With those wins, Lucas and Hatten both successfully defended the conference titles that they won a season ago.

Kocher and his staff earned recognition as the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year, and the Maroons finished with five individual titles, including championships for three of the four fourth-years competing.

“Seniors Benny Hart, Jack Toussaint, and Justin Lucas wrestled great,” Kocher said. “They have worked hard for four years and truly deserved their individual UAA championship.”

With the UAA title back in Hyde Park, the Maroons are now looking ahead two weeks to the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet, which takes place February 21 at Concordia. Now that team competition has come to an end, several Maroons are planning on qualifying for the D-III Championship.

“We went out on the mat and got the team win, which is great, especially at the end of a tough season,” Hatten said. “Even so, I think some people, myself included, realize that Regionals is a whole different competition. There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we wrestle our best at Regionals.”