January 10, 2006

Hard loss, tough wins for wrestling

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for a wrestling team that has had to face some of the toughest schools in the nation over the past several weeks. But after some tough news Thursday night, the team clearly signalled that they’re not willing to give up on this season quite yet.

Three wrestlers placed for the Maroons at Saturday’s Cornell Invite, as the team finished ninth overall with 52 points. Two of the three who placed for Chicago were seeded at the beginning of the tournament, third-years Mike Bishof (fourth-seeded 165-pounder) and Andrew Bribriesco (sixth-seeded 141-pounder). First-year 149-pounder Jeff Harman was not seeded and earned a sixth-place finish, beating sixth-seeded third-year Ryan DeVriendt of Central College.

A tally in the L-column wasn’t the only setback last Thursday, as the Maroons dropped to North Central 28–9 and lost team star third-year 184-pounder Ben Barnes to a broken hand, ending his season prematurely. Barnes had been named UAA Athlete of the Week in mid-December.

With Barnes out of the lineup at Cornell, Bishof took the reins and led his team with a 4–1 record and third place in his weight class. His only defeat was to UW–Eau Claire fourth-year Derek Sikora of 12–4, the fifth-ranked Division-III wrestler in the weight class.

The coaching staff forfeited both Bribriesco and Harman to end their day in sixth place, after the two had been roughed up from six straight matches. Bribriesco’s last match would have been against first-year David Boussios of host Cornell, following Bribriesco’s 4–3 loss to St. John’s (MN) second-year Charlie Sadder. Harman’s last match before the forfeit was by a 5–3 decision to UW–Plattville first-year Ryan Higgins.

The Maroons were not expecting such success at one of the most challenging tourneys in recent years. Over 200 wrestlers across 17 teams, five of them nationally ranked, participated in the event.

“The Cornell meet was considerably tougher than last year,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “I was also pleased with some of the performances by wrestlers who did not place but wrestled well.”

Third-year 197-pounder Drew Marriott lost a close 5–3 match to the eventual third-place finisher. Second-year 133-pounder Brandon Tillman and first-year heavyweight Tom Nero also fell in close matches to seeded wrestlers.

Reserve wrestlers also posted strong showings for the Maroons at Cornell. Three of these non-starters were first-years. Both 174-pounders Justin Lucas and Lance Contento won three bouts, with Lucas losing only to the eventual fifth-place finisher 5–0. First-year 125-pounder Zachary Matayoshi also won a match, but lost in his next bout 7–3 against the eventual third-place finisher. Third-year 125-pounder Alejandro Figueroa reached the quarterfinals, but lost 2–0 to fourth-year Nate Evans of Luther College, who finished sixth in his class.

The tourney was a much needed morale boost for the Maroons (2–4), who lost eight of nine contests at last Thursday’s dual-meet against North Central. The one victory was recorded by third-year 174-pounder Phil Kruzel, who defeated first-year Nathan DeVaux 14–7. Kruzel has excelled of late, notching wins in three of the last four dual-meet events.

“North Central was disappointing for everyone,” Kocher said. “I try not to get too worked up over non-UAA dual meets, but at North Central we lost three matches that the coaching staff believed we should have won.

“The team is going to have to step and fill a pretty big hole left by the loss of Ben,” he added, referring to the debilitating injury suffered by Barnes.

Second-year Cameron Soran will immediately take Barnes’s place in the 184-pound class.

Facing a weaker Wheaton (IL) team tonight, the coaching staff may choose to rest some starters. The Maroons face an uphill climb from there, however, as they prepare to compete at the tough North Central Invite in Naperville, IL. Following that, they face an Elmhurst team (3–1–1) that has 4 of its 10 starters ranked in the top eight of their classes in Division III.

“We will have our hands full,” Kocher said.