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February 4, 2003

Maroons win third consecutive wrestling UAA championship

The University of Chicago wrestling team notched its third-straight UAA title at the conference championship tournament hosted by New York University this past Saturday. The Maroons defeated conference rivals NYU and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in dual matches by scores of 28-15 and 27-12, respectively. Seven wrestlers were also named UAA champions in their individual weight classes. Third-year Nick Kehagias received the honor of being named the 2003 UAA Most Outstanding Wrestler.

"In the sixteen year history that has only happened twice--in 1993 for Case and 1997 for Chicago," said head wrestling coach Leo Kocher, when discussing Chicago's sweep of the individual championships. "So this team is arguably one of the most dominating champions in UAA history."

The defending champion Maroons entered the competition aiming to win, but expecting a close contest with both schools. "I thought both meets could be very close," said Kocher. "We went into the competition thinking in terms of defeating Case Western and NYU--by a single point if necessary--and winning a team championship."

The single point wasn't necessary, as Chicago easily defeated NYU and CWRU by a large margin. What made the win more impressive, however, was the new lineup that Kocher and his assistants incorporated at the meet.

"We were able to analyze Case's and NYU's lineup for weaknesses before we flew out and we decided that the way to maximize our wins in both duals was to let [second-year] Alan Lazzara, a very talented reserve 157-pounder, replace [fourth-year] Nate Lukanich--and wrestle Nate and [third-year] Ryan Hlinak up into the next two weight classes (167 and 174 pounds)," stated Kocher.

In the first meet against CWRU, six Chicago wrestlers won their weight class. Second-year Ai Nguyen won the 125-pound class by forfeit. The move allowed Kocher to start Kehagias at 133, where he defeated the eventual 133-pound UAA champion. Second-year Sean Barnes also wrestled up at heavyweight against NYU in addition to his normal 197 pounds against CWRU, as he has done previously this season since the injury to third-year Tim Daly.

After two weeks out with illness, third-year Dale Burke came back in force and posted a win in overtime, 4-2. Kocher commented on the match, "Dale winning an overtime match after two weeks without practice demonstrated some real fortitude."

Kehagias, Lazzara, Hlinak, and Lukanich all won their matches against both CWRU and NYU. The four wrestlers, along with teammates Barnes, Burke, and fourth-year Andy Bugajski, were named to the All-Association Team and were individual champions of their respective weight classes.

"Every single one of our wrestlers competed very well, even those who lost kept their matches close. Through pins and major decisions we scored 10 bonus points on the day and only gave up three--which is what you need to do if you want to win dual meets," Kocher stated.

Kocher and his assistant coaches were honored with the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year award at the meet, in addition to all the team recognitions.

The Maroons' next competition is this Friday and Saturday at a tournament hosted by Wheaton College. The two-day meet will feature over 25 teams and will provide good competition for the squad as it prepares for regionals. According to Kocher, "It is a very tough tournament and typically features four NAIA and NCAA Division II teams that have wrestlers on athletic scholarship."