Competing in one of the toughest regions in DIII, wrestling flexed some muscle at its final tournament of the year and came away with individual and team distinctions.
Finishing sixth at the Great Lakes Regionals hosted by Concordia University Wisconsin, the Maroons improved on last year’s seventh-place showing. This season, the field of 15 teams that made the trip to Mequon, WI Saturday included six nationally ranked squads, the division’s best among them. The Maroons proved capable of holding their ground on the mat with several grapplers finishing above their seeds and third-year Troy Carlson earning a spot at Nationals.
“I thought our team performed at a pretty high level,” head coach Leo Kocher said.
Carlson went into the weekend with high hopes of continuing his season with an appearance at nationals. Seeded first in the 174-pound weight class, Carlson ended as the runner-up in his category, which was enough to secure his first chance to compete with the country’s best March 6 and 7 in Cedar Rapids, IA.
A wrestler of national caliber since last season, Carlson separated his shoulder at regionals last year. The injury prevented him from continuing in a tournament that had seen him plow through early opponents.
“Troy’s shoulder was 100 percent recovered,” said Kocher of the state of Carlson’s health for Saturday. “But several of our wrestlers, including Troy, went into the regional nursing injuries of some kind. That is the nature of the sport and the long season.”
A pin in 0:59 started the day for Carlson, who went on to win his next two matchups with a 3–0 decision and a 5–3 overtime victory before heading to the championship bout with Augsburg’s Zach Molitor.
There was little surprise in the title round pairing, but there was a bit of an upset in the results. Nationally fourth-ranked Carlson held a higher standing than eighth-ranked and second-seeded Molitor, but the Maroon lost by fall to the Auggie.
As the top two finishers of their class, the pair took the only automatic bids to NCAAs next weekend. Carlson is the first Maroon to qualify for the tournament since 165-pounder Phil Kruzel (A.B. ’07) went to the big stage in 2007 and earned All-American honors.
“Troy has been a dominant wrestler all year,” Kocher said. “…We have some things to work on before the NCAAs. These 10 days of preparation will be a big help.”
While his season will continue, several of his teammates also wrapped up the winter with strong statements. Overall, Chicago claimed six top-six finishes, including fourth-year Ben Hart’s climb from the seventh seed to an NCAA alternate at 133 pounds.
Hart fought his way through some of the top wrestlers of his class to snag the bronze. A 6–4 victory over the second seed, St. Olaf’s Ryan Timmerman, in the quarterfinals set him up to defeat the fourth seed, Knox’s Edel Vaca, by a major decision. Hart’s pin in the consolation final of Elmhurst’s Jake Denhof, an opponent he lost to four weeks ago, finished his day.
“Benny Hart coming from his seventh seed in his weight class to beating the second seed in the quarterfinals, to giving the eventual champion a very tough match in the semifinals, to pinning an opponent he had lost to four weeks ago for third place was an impressive performance,” Kocher said.
Other key outings for the Maroons included second-year Ryan Hatten’s fifth-place effort in a tough heavyweight field and sixth-place finishes from fourth-year Spencer Burns (157 pounds), fourth-year Justin Lucas (197 pounds), and first-year Jimmy Schoettle (125 pounds).
With the solid work at this year’s regionals to go with another UAA Championship already in their pocket, the Maroons have made their mark on 2009, and a big roster stacked with underclassmen puts them in a good position to have an impressive 2010.