November 29, 2005

Wrestling preview: Wrestlers hope taking on best will pay dividends

In search of a sixth consecutive UAA title, wrestling hopes that a grueling non-conference schedule will translate into success on the regional and national levels.

This year’s schedule includes dual matches with Division I powerhouse Northwestern and nationally ranked Division III programs North Central and Elmhurst. In addition, the Maroons may face eight to ten other ranked teams in tournaments throughout the season and will have to contend with Augsburg in the regional tourney. Last season, the Auggies sent all 10 of their starters to nationals, where they won the championship by 60 points. Earlier this year they trounced Division I opponent Oregon State 29–6.

“Our goal is to be competitive with the best wrestlers in Division III and Division I,” said head coach Leo Kocher, who has won 11 UAA titles in his time at Chicago. “We search out the best competition we can find, and that’s how we get better. [Competition] is essential to raise your expectations of what you are capable of.”

The Maroons return eight starters, the nucleus of last year’s UAA champion squad. In third-years 165-pounder Mike Bishof, 174-pounder Phil Kruzel, and 141-pounder Andrew Bribriesco, the team features three wrestlers who placed at last season’s regional. Last season’s lone qualifier for nationals, heavyweight Sean Barnes, has graduated and now helps the team in training.

“We want to be represented at the NCAAs,” Kocher said. “We’re capable of getting more than one representative. Once we get there, our goal is to place.”

The team will be helped by the addition of a horde of talented newcomers. Chicago boasts an incoming class that includes five athletes who placed in their high school state tournaments last year. Although Kocher plans on only starting two or three first-years regularly, six first-years have already been pressed into duty due to injury.

With Barnes helping to show him the ropes, first-year Tom Nero will see immediate action for the Maroons in the heavyweight division.

“Tom has great upside potential,” Kocher said. “He’s large and he’s fast. The other [first-years] will have to battle upperclassmen for starting spots.”

With such a blend of experience and inexperience, how well the Maroons do this season will be a result of their competitive drive. In playing a difficult schedule of nationally ranked foes, they have the opportunity to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.

“I think our athletes are talented enough,” Kocher said. “If they work exceptionally hard, they can compete with anyone in the country.”