The Maroons will face their first competitive test of the season in a dual meet against Northwestern and Stevens Tech this Saturday, November 2.
The team looks to improve upon results from last season, when it finished 10th in the Midwest Regional, but knows that integrating new wrestlers and gaining cohesion will precede long-term tournament goals this weekend.
“We’re always looking to do better, and Regionals is definitely something we’ll be looking forward to, but in the beginning we’re working on building technique and getting the new guys incorporated into our system and style,” fourth-year Sam Pennisi said. “The postseason is something we’re aware of down the line, but right now we’re focusing week-to-week.”
When asked about this Saturday’s opposition, Pennisi said, “Both teams are Division I, and they’re both tough competition. It’s a great way to wrestle two hard matches and gain experience, as an individual and as a team. We’ve got a lot of guys really hungry to prove something this year, and we’re ready to transition from preseason to the regular season.”
Third-year teammate Mario Palmisano believes that the new wrestlers in the program will be a boon for the team going forward. “We’ve got good talent coming in, which is good for the overall competitive nature of the team and the intensity levels of our practices. We also have a lot of key returners, so we’re excited to see how things go,” he said.
Like Pennisi, Palmisano sees the meets this weekend against Northwestern and Stevens Tech as crucial for the team’s improvement.
“We’ve never faced either of these two teams before, but we know that they’re strong, so it’ll be interesting to start against tough competition. The only way to get better is to compete against great teams.”
The tournament will be something of a homecoming for head coach Leo Kocher (M.B.A. '87), who co-captained the Northwestern wrestling team during his college career. Kocher is entering his 35th season as coach of the Maroons, and was recently honored with a lifetime service award by the Illinois chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, but he won’t let sentimentalities obscure his designs for team success.
“I have a good relationship with the NU program—but I have no mixed emotions about this meet as far as athletic competition goes. I am focused on our wrestlers and their success and welfare to the exclusion of all else,” Kocher said. “I am looking forward to this team developing getting better and better every week. We have a nice mix of talented veterans and talented newcomers. Wrestling seasons are a bit of a journey and we are committed to every team member finishing in a much better place than where he started.”
The Maroons will compete on Saturday in the Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston against Northwestern at 2 p.m. and Stevens Tech at 5 p.m.