Even in the lower weight classes, strong finishes aren't rare for the Maroon wrestlers.
Chicago led Gettysburg 15-9 on Thursday evening when, less than 20 seconds into the penultimate match of the night, 125-pound Chicago third-year Ai Nguyen lifted his opponent, Brian Norcross, clear off the ground and slammed him hard onto the mat. Norcross's legs were desperately kicking the air before he came crashing down.
Twenty seconds later, the same thing happened again.
From then on, with Nguyen dominating and racking up the takedowns, Chicago head coach Leo Kocher could relax. Nguyen went on to defeat Norcross on a technical fall, 22-7, earning five points for the team and effectively ending the meet. One last win by first-year Alejandro Figueroa in the 133-pound weight class gave the 25th ranked Maroons a 23-9 victory. Their dual meet record improved to 7-4.
"The guy was moving really fast," Nguyen said afterward. "I was kind of nervous but I was able to slow it down, wrestle at my pace, and do what I like to do. He was coming in pretty hard. He doesn't really have a good sprawl so I shot a lot."
Nguyen's coach was also pleased.
"That was a nice performance by Ai," said Kocher. "He got the only bonus points of the night. His win was what put it out of reach. A workmanlike job."
Nguyen and his teammates had little time to rest after the match. Over the weekend, they competed in the North Central Invitational, finishing 8th out of 21 teams. Top performers in the tournament for the Maroons were third-years Ryan Hlinak, who's only loss came in the finals of the 149 division, and Sean Barnes who went 6-1 to take 3rd place at 197 pounds. At 125 pounds, Nguyen came in fifth with a 4-2 record. First-year Ben Barnes went 3-3 to finish 6th at 189 pounds. At 141 pounds, second-year Sam Kunkel also took 6th.
Kocher had hoped to have at least a couple of his five injured starters back for the tournament, but, once again, fourth-year Tim Daly (ill), second-year Anthony Bribriesco (shoulder), first-year Andrew Bribriesco (knee), first-year Dexter Hough-Snee (spine), and All-American, fourth-year Nick Kehagias (knee) were all unable to participate.
And on Thursday, all three Maroon losses could be accounted for because of second-stringers. But, along with Nguyen, first-year Jason Besse, replacing the elder Bribriesco, also earned an important victory. Besse's 10-7 decision over Josh Kaplan was the second win of the night for the Maroons and put them ahead to stay.
Besse took control of the match at the outset. He shot early and often, earning three takedowns in the first period to take a 6-2 lead. A reversal near the end of the second period stretched the lead to 8-2. Besse was nearly reversed himself as time ran out, a sign of a difficult final frame to come.
Hoping for a quick escape, Kaplan chose to start the third period from a controlled position. Besse, though, let Kaplan escape. A single point for Kaplan, he thought, was worth it to get back to a neutral position from which he had been dominating all match.
This time things worked out differently. Besse shot low, and Kaplan managed a defensive takedown to bring the score to 8-5.
After Besse escaped, the two looked tired as they circled each other. Kaplan, however, evidently had some life left in him. He made an aggressive move and took Besse down. With fifteen seconds left, and the scoreboard reading 9-7, the Gettysburg bench stood and desperately urged on their teammate. But Besse remained on his stomach as the clock ran out. An extra point awarded to Besse for riding time meant that the match was not quite as close as it had appeared. Still, he did well to hang on in what was one of the more thrilling contests of the night.
Kocher himself was partial to the match that immediately followed, fourth-year Kyle McClurg's hard fought 5-2 decision over Aaron Fuchs.
"Kyle McClurg did an outstanding job," Kocher said. "[His opponent] was a pretty good athlete. He just picked him to death, scored the first takedown, and just kept increasing the lead, not giving him anything. That was a nice match."
After Chicago and Gettysburg traded minor decisions, 197-pound third-year Sean Barnes engaged in a somewhat bizarre encounter with Justin Perinotti. Perinotti at times seemed more intent on disfiguring Barnes's face than on bringing him down. Following more than a few eye pokes and head butts, Perinotti was given a warning by the referee, but that did little to change the nature of the match. By the third period, a fan could be heard in the stands muttering, "This is turning into a fight."
Yet after coming away with a 5-3 win, Barnes was not about to complain.
"He's a good guy. There was some tough wrestling," said Barnes. "I'm just glad the team did well... It's a physical sport. It's not basketball, right? It's important not to let that sidetrack you."
In the heavyweight matches first-year Drew Marriott was narrowly defeated by Mike Pattanite, 2-1. Then, with two matches remaining and Gettysburg still only two minor decisions away from tying up the meet, it was up to Nguyen to finish them off, which he did with style.